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One Day 
in the Life of 

Ivan Denisovich 



New Delhi 



Post Box No. 3513 
D-305, Defence Colony 

First Indian Edition 7961 

R. K. Printers, Delhi-7 


As nearly c\eryone must be aware by now, no 
contemporary Russian novel except Doctor Zhivago has 
been preceded by such salvos of publicity as has One Day 
in the Life of Ivan Denisovich , a prison epic by Alexander 

The novel itself, a graphically detailed description of 
one day of struggle, brutality, and privation in a Northern 
Siberian Camp for political prisoners during the winter of 
1951, is notable for its tacit recognition of the abuses of 
power under Joseph Stalin. 

As the title indicates, the story merely traces a routine 
day in the life of a political prisoner, Ivan Denisovich 
Shukhov, at one of the Siberian camps. This is a story 
of a man whose every nerve, from the movement he 
opens his eyes in the morning till he closes them at night, 
is strained in the task of sheer survival. Shukhov has 
been in the camp eight years and knows the ropes— how 
to avoid detection by the guards, how to wangle an extra 
bowl of gruel or husband a crust of bread inside his 
jacket. Eating, he rolls each pellet of bread slowly in his 
mouth to extract the last bit of taste and nourishment 
from it. Yet this monotonous succession of ordeals takes 
on, in Solzhenitsyn’s telling, the quality of intense adven- 
ture as we watch the unkillable individual pit himself 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

against almost impossible odd simply to keep alive. And 
when Shukhov lies down to sleep, he can count his day — 
one of many thousands exactly like it— as a happy one r 
for at least he has survived. 

The hero of the novel, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, a 
simple carpenter unjustly accused of collaboration with the 
Germans during the second World War, has survived more 
than half of a 10-year sentence— a bleak succession of 
thousands of days of beatings, frostbite, malnutrition, 
and incessant physical labour. As seen through his eyes, 
the novel is a bitter, unadorned documentary of that 
battle for survival. 

Solzhenitsyn’s manuscript was rejected by a number of 
editors in his own country as too hot to handle. Premier 
Khrushchev himself made the decision to publish, un- 
doubtedly aware that this novel would be a powerful 
weapon against the Stalinists. Consequently, Khrushchev 
himself recommended the publication of the novel. The 
novel appeared originally in Novy Mir (a liberal literary 
monthly) in its November 20, 1962 issue. The editor of 
Novy Mir warned Soviet readers that some of the language 
of the novel is shocking; and the warning holds for 
readers of the translations that the interpellation of some 
raw vulgarities in the speech of inmates and guards is 
necessary to convey the flavour of the talk is admitted. 
As an authentic picture of life in one of the many such 
Siberian penal camps, this can be recommended, with the 
reservation made above, to adult readers. It was a 
sensation, and the first edition was promptly sold out. 
Solzhenitsyn was hailed as one of the great Russian prose 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

writers, fromfLermontov to Chekhov. They have a worthy 
successor in him. His name was nominated for the Lenin 
Prize with the endorsement of practically all the Soviet 
Union’s liberal intelligentsia— still he won no award. If 
the story moves us, we can imagine how it must have 
affected the Russians, among whom nearly every family 
had a member who had been sent to the camps. 

The writer himself spent eight years (1945-53)in a camp 
much like the one he describes. Surrounded by the Germans 
in World War II, he broke through their lines and returned 
to his own Company. For this brave feat he was immedi- 
ately seized by the Russian secret police on suspicion that 
the Germans had let him return only to spy. He confessed 
because he thought he would be shot if he did not— a 
common belief that seems to shed light on how confessions 
were obtained during the Stalin period. >Yet he writes 
now without any show of rancour. One has the curious 
impression from “One Day” that the ordeal of the camps 
united the Russian people more profoundly in suffering, 
rather than producing any real political disaffection with 
the Communist regime in Moscow. 

“One Day” is a masterpiece in its own right, a work 
squarely in the mainstream of Russia’s literary tradition. 
The novelist speaks very much for himself, and in a voice 
of his own. At least, when he speaks in his mother tongue 
—•Russian. Despite some obvious flaws, the English trans- 
lation offers an approximate and still very exciting idea of 
Solzhenitsyn’s talent and the sweep of his vision. 

One Day , yields, more than anything else, a beautiful 
sense of its author as a Chekhovian affection, wholly 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

serious. As a revelation of the recent past, One Day tells 
us f nothing that many other witnesses — also victims of the 
Siberian camps— have not told. Tf, however, we do try to 
examine the book simply as a novel, what do we find ? A 
work that is modest in scope, pure in tone, and utterly 
authentic in treatment. 

Moreover, it is a novel from whose pages rises a fully 
alive person who communicates with us, whose feelings we 
share, whose thoughts we understand, however remote his 
experiences may be from our own— such a book is a good 
book. And such a book is Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s tale of 
Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. 

However, One Day is not anti-Soviet, but simply anti- 
Stalinist, and a very moderate indictment of the labour 
camp system. Its claim to sensationalism rests principally 
on the fact that it is a clear acknowledgement of a black 
period in recent Soviet history, issued with the approval 
of the present regime. It is also a moving human record, 
since the novelist himself survived 3 years’ imprisonment 
in just such a camp. 

Bursting forth from the anonymous hell of Stalin’s 
prison, Solzhenitsyn may well be the greatest living Soviet 
novelist. But politically he is still on the attack. His tales 
deal with the evils of bureaucracy, and he is open in his 
condemnation of lingering Stalinism and of personal 

The Czech writer Pavel Licko’s account of his visit to 
Solzhenitsyn throws welcome light on a writer about, 
whose present life little has been known outside the USSR, 

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

rand about whom it had been rumoured that he was dying 
of cancer. 

Mr. Licko tells us : “When my wife and I first read 
Solzhenitsyn’s book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, 
we were curious to know if he was a professional writer 
or just a man who had suffered and had cried out his 
suffering in just this one book. As a translator of Russian 
literature, I wrote to him officially through the Soviet Writers 
Union inquiring about his work, Tnresponsehe sent me ten 
pages of his new work. This happened to be Cancer Ward . 
After that I understood that Russia had given birth to yet 
another of her great writers. I arranged that our official 
Slovak Communist Party newspaper Pravda published the 
excerpt. This was the first and only publication of Cancer 
Ward in Eastern Europe and, in fact, the first publication 
in the world of this novel. It made quite a splash in the 
literary circles in our country and I was sent to the Soviet 
Union by our leading literary journal to talk to 
Solzhenitsyn. But when I arrived in Moscow in March 
1967, 1 realised it was not so easy. . . Solzhenitsyn does not 
live in Moscow : he lives in the small town of Ryazan 200 
miles away. The Russian Writers Union kept telling me that 
he was busy or ill, or almost dying, and that in any case 
he did not like visitors. I could not just go there and check 
these stories. Ryazan is closed to all foreigners, even those 
from the Socialist countries, and I needed a special visa. 
I would never have got it through the Writers Union in 
spite of Solzhenitsyn’s invitation, which I had. I was a 
Soviet officer during the last war. I knew how to talk with 
‘Soviet Officials, and I finally got my Ryazan visa. But this 
proved to be not enough. First, some officials on the train 

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

tried to tell me that the train was not going there an<f 
that I should leave it in an unknown town an hour and a 
half away from Moscow. Then I was dumped about ten 
miles outside Ryazan at a small station in the steppe. It 
seemed to have no name. After a while I found a taxi- 
driver, and 1 noticed that he had a labour camp number 
surrounded with a crown of barbed wire tatooed on his 
wrist. I told him I had come to see Solzhenitsyn. He 
didn’t ask for the address. He just took me there, refusing 
to talk on the way, in complete silence, and he refused to 
accept the fare . . . Solzhenitsyn lives in a standard Russian 
house, three storeys, new but already shabby. He has 
three rooms on the ground floor down a dirty corridor 
smelling of burst drain pipes. A very tall, bearded man, 
very athletic, met me at the door. We spent six hours in his 
flat, crammed with books and music sheets and full of old 
but tasteful furniture, including a grand piano. The books 
are mostly not in Russian. I remember Thackerary’s 
complete works in English, among other English books, 
and Anatole France in French. We ate, we drank only a 
little. Solzhenitsyn hardly drinks— this was the only time 
in Russia that I was refused a second glass of vodka. And 
we talked. I made some notes during the conversation. 
One of them read : “This man has a computer brain. It 
gives birth to sentences moulded in mathematically precise 
words’' — and that with a machine-gun speed, I must add, 
and spiced with Latin quotations. He was, of course, 
educated as a mathematician and he behaves like a 
modern-type scientist. When he makes an appointment 
he appears in the dot— a very un-Russian trait. He dresses, 
fashionably, moves like a sportsman, walks with a broad 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

stride. He has the efficient manner and thinks like a. 
Russian, particularly about literature ... He told me that 
the writer’s main task is not to miss a single mistake in the 
social development of his country. He must discover the 
unexpected in the life of his society and he does it by 
exploring and following his memory, the memory of an 
artist. ‘The writer must always be all nerves,’ he said. He 
summed up his attitude to modern Soviet literature in one 
word : ‘cosmetics’. He is not overwhelmed by modem 
Western European literature either. He said that Western 
Europe had not lived through any cataclysms recently, that 
life had been too prosperous and too quiet there to give 
birth to a great literature. ‘I have a feeling,’ he said, ‘that 
a great part of their literature is rather petty, though I 
don’t know all of it. Good literature arises out of pain. 
That is why I pin my literary hopes on Eastern Europe/ 
He always includes Russia in Eastern Europe. ‘What is 
good literature ?’ I asked him. ‘A good book,’ he said, ‘is 
one that has colour, power and air. What a writer needs 
above all is not money or glory, but objective criticism to 
point out to him when his books lack these qualities.’... 
He told me that he still lived off the mistake of Russia’s 
last dictator— that is, off Khrushchev’s decision to publish 
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. He also got some 
foreign currency from Sweden, directly from the Swedish 
Ambassador and strictly legally, of course. He bought 
himself a small car in a hard-currency store with it* But 
he never saw a penny or a kopek, or a centime, or a 
pfenning, of the foreign royalties that the state-owned 
Soviet authors’ agency Mezhkniga collected abroad on his 
behalf for Ivan Denisovich. He lives very economically* 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

though not badly by Russian standards and he believes 
that he has enough money to last him through his lifetime. 
His latest novels are only spread in Russia as ‘under- 
ground* typescripts — there are thousands of these — and 
there is no royalty attached to them, naturally. He does 
not feel himself to be the focal point of a new movement 
in Russia. But objectively speaking, he enjoys great 
authority and respect among the writers and among the 
intelligentsia. In the camps, thousands of people 
memorised his ‘microstories\ which he composed in his 
head without writing them down, simply because they 
admired them. He is the beginning of an intellectual 
movement which might eventually bridge the gap between 
Russia and the rest of the world. I think that the 
emergence of Solzhenitsyn is more important in its 
invasion of my country in its positive effect than even 
the invasion of my country is in its negative effect, painful 
as that is for all of us in Czechoslovakia. 

— Publishers 



The following notes refer to words asterisked in the text, in 
the order in which they appear. 

“Free” workers (Volnye )— The term used by the 
prisoners about the people “outside” ( navole ). These 
“free” workers employed on construction sites in the 
vicinity of Soviet concentration camps were mostly 
former prisoners themselves who, after serving their 
sentences, either had no home to go back to or were 
not allowed by the authorities to return to their 
former places of residence. 

Western Ukrainian— A native of that Ukrainian ter- 
ritory which until World War II belonged to Poland 
and was subsequently annexed by the Soviet Union. 
The implication of the passage is that the people in 
this region still had not lost some of the manner of 
non-Soviet society. 

Ust-Izhma— One of the many camps on the river 
Pechora, which flows into the Barents Sea. In these 
camps, the prisoners were employed mostly in cutting 

“Special” camp (Osoblager )— Camps with a particularly 
harsh regime. 

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Wolkovoy— A name derived from volk, meaning 

Article 58 — The notorious article of the Soviet Crimi- 
nal Code that covers a wide range of “anti-Soviet” 
offenses —espionage, sabotage, propaganda against 
the regime— and was interpreted to cover the 
activities of any “socially dangerous elements.” 
Under Stalin, it was applied indiscriminately and 
automatically to untold numbers of people (like 
Shukhov in this novel) on mere suspicion of dis- 
loyalty or disaffection. 

Old Believers (Staroobryadtsy )— Schismatics of the 
Russian Orthodox Church who refused to accept 
certain reforms introduced by the Patriarch Nikon in 
the seventeenth century. They were persecuted both 
under the Czars and under the Soviets. 

Bendera — Stepan Bendera, the leader of the Western 
Ukrainian nationalist partisans who at first collabo- 
rated with the Germans against the Soviets during 
the war, but then became disillusioned with the 
Germans and continued ^uerrila warfare on Soviet 
territory until about 1950. Bendera was assassinated 
by Soviet agents in Germany in October, 1959. 

"“Goner” ( Dokhodyaga ) — Camp slang for a prisoner 
who was so exhausted by work and wasted by disease 
that he had little time left to live. 

Oprichniki — Ivan the Terrible’s janizaries, who in the 
sixteenth century were .used to crush all opposition 
to the Czar. 


Explanatory Notes 

“How are you serving ?” ... “I serve the working 
people” — A standard form of address between officers 
and men in the Soviet Army. 

“Kirov business”— Sergei Kirov, a member of the 
Politburo and Party boss of Leningrad. His assas- 
sination there in 1934, probably engineered by Stalin 
himself, provided the excuse for mass arrests and the 
liquidation of real and imagined political opponents 
that culminated in the Great Purge of 1936-38. 

Zavadsky— Yuri Zavadsky, a prominent Soviet stage 
producer associated with the Moscow Art Theater, 
the Theater of the Red Army, and the Theater of the 
Moscow City Soviet. 


R EVEILLE was sounded, as always, at 5 A M. -a 
hammer pounding on a rail outside camp HQ. 
The ringing noise came faintly on and off 
through the windowpanes covered with ice more than 
an inch thick, and died away fast. It was cold and 
the warder didn’t feel like going on banging. 

The sound stopped and it was pitch black on the 
other side of the window, just like in the middle of 
the night when Shukhov had to get up to go to the 
latrine, only now three yellow beams fell on the window 
— from two lights on the perimeter a nd one inside the 

He didn’t know why but nobody’d come to open 
up the barracks. And you couldn’t hear the orderlies 
hoisting the latrine tank on the poles to carry it out. 

Shukhov never slept through reveille but always 
got up at once. That gave him about an hour and a 
half to himself before the morning roll call, a time 
when anyone who knew what was what in the camps 
could always scrounge a little something on the side. 
He could sew someone a cover for his mittens out of 
a piece of old lining. He could bring one of the big 
gang bosses his dry felt boots while he was still in his 
bunk, to save him the trouble of hanging around the 
pile of boots in his bare feet and trying to find his 
own. Or he could run around to one of the supply 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

rooms where there might be a little job, sweeping or 
carrying something. Or he could go to the mess hall 
to pick up bowls from the tables and take piles of 
them to the dishwashers. That was another way of 
getting food, but there werd always too many other 
people with the same idea. And the worst thing was 
that if there was something left in a bowl you started 
to lick it. You couldn’t help it. And Shukhov could 
still hear the words of his first gang boss, Kuzyomin 
— an old camp hand who’d already been inside for 
twelve years in 1943. Once, by a fire in a forest clear- 
ing, he’d said to a new batch of men just brought in 
from the front : 

“It’s the law of the jungle here, fellows. But even 
here you can live. The first to go is the guy who licks 
out bowls, puts his faith in the infirmary, or squeals to 
the screws.” 

He was dead right about this — though it didn’t 
always work out that way with the fellows who 
squealed to the screws. They knew how to look after 
themselves. They got away with it and it was the 
other guys who suffered. 

Shukhov always got up at reveille, but today he 
didn’t. He’d been feeling lousy since the night before — 
with aches and pains and the shivers, and he just 
couldn’t manage to keep warm that night. In his sleep 
he’d felt very sick and then again a little better. All 
the time he dreaded the morning. 

But the morning came, as it always did. 

Anyway, how could anyone get warm here, what 
with the ice piled up on the window and a white 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

cobweb of frost running along the whole barracks 
where the walls joined the ceiling? And a hell of a 
barracks it was. 

Shukhov stayed in bed. He was lying on the top 
bunk, with his blanket and overcoat over his head and 
both his feet tucked in the sleeve of his jacket. He 
couldn’t see anything, but he could tell by the sounds 
what was going on in the barracks and in his own 
part of it. He could hear the orderlies tramping down 
the corridor with one of the twenty-gallon latrine 
tanks. This was supposed to be light work for people 
on the sick list — but it was no joke carrying the thing 
out without spilling it ! Then someone from Gang 75 
dumped a Pile of felt boots from the drying room on 
the floor. And now someone from his gang did the 
same (it was also their turn to use the drying room 
today). The gang boss and his assistant quickly put on 
their boots, and their bunk creaked. The assistant 
gang boss would now go and set the bread rations. 
And then the boss would take off for the Production 
Planning Section (PPS) at HQ. 

But, Shukhov remembered, this wasn’t just the 
same old daily visit to the PPS clerks. Today was 
the big day for them. They’d heard a lot of talk of 
switching their gang — 104 — from putting up work- 
shops to a new job building a new “Socialist Com- 
munity Development.” But so far it was nothing more 
than bare fields covered with snowdrifts, and before 
anything could be done there, holes had to be dug, 
posts put in, and barbed wire put up — by the prisoners 
for the prisoners, so they couldn’t get out. And then 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

they could start building. 

You could bet your life that for a month there’d 
be no place where you could get warm— not even a 
hole in the ground. And you couldn’t make a fire — 
what could you use for fuel ? So your only hope was 
to work like hell. 

The gang boss was worried and was going to try 
to fix things, try to palm the job off on some other 
gang, one that was a little slower on the uptake. Of 
course you couldn’t go empty-handed. It would take 
a pound of fatback for the chief clerk. Or even two. 

Maybe Shukhov would try to get himself on the 
sick list so he could have a day off. There was no 
harm in trying. His whole body was one big ache. 

Then he wondered — which warder was on duty 
today ? 

He remembered that it was Big Ivan, a tall, 
scrawny sergeant with black eyes. The first time you 
saw him he scared the pants off you, but when you 
got to know him he was the easiest of all the duty 
warders — wouldn’t put you in the can or drag you 
off to the disciplinary officer. So Shukhov could stay 
put till it was time for Barracks 9 to go to the mess 

The bunk rocked and shook as two men got up 
together — on the top Shukhov’s neighbor, the Baptist 
Alyoshka, and down below Buynovsky, who’d been 
a captain in the navy. 

When they’d carried out the two latrine tanks, the 
orderlies started quarreling about who’d go to get 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

the hot water. They went on and on like two old 
women. The electric welder from Gang 20 barked 
at them : 

“Hey, you old bastards !” And he threw a boot 
at them. “I’ll make you shut up.” 

The boot thudded against a post. The orderlies 
shut up. 

The assistant boss of the gang next to them grum- 
bled in a low voice : 

“Vasili Fyodorovich ! The bastards pulled a fast 
one on me in the supply room. We always get four 
two-pound loaves, but today we only got three. 
Some-one’ll have to get the short end.” 

He spoke quietly, but of course the whole gang 
heard him and they all held their breath. Who was 
going to be shortchanged on rations this evening ? 

Shukhov stayed where he was, on the hard- 
packed sawdust of his mattress. If only it was one 
thing or another — either a high fever or an end to 
the pain. But this way he didn’t know where he was. 

While the Baptist was whispering his prayers, 
the Captain came back from the latrine and said to 
no one in particular, but sort of gloating: 

“Brace yourselves, men! It’s at least twenty 

Shukhov made up his mind to go to the infirmary. 

And then some strong hand stripped his jacket 
and blanket off him. Shukhov jerked his quilted 
over-coat off his face and raised himself up a bit. 
Below him, his head level with the top of the bunk, 
stood the Thin Tartar. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

So this bastard had come on duty and sneaked 
up on them. 

“S-854 !” the Tartar read from the white patch 
on the back of the black coat. “Three days in the 
can with work as usual.” 

The minute they heard his funny muffled voice 
everyone in the entire barracks — which was pretty 
dark (not all the lights were on) and where two 
hundred men slept in fifty bug-ridden bunks— came 
to life all of a sudden. Those who hadn’t yet gotten 
up began to dress in a hurry. 

“But what for. Comrade Warder ?” Shukhov 
asked, and he made his voice sound more pitiful 
than he really felt. 

The can was only half as bad if you were given 
normal work. You got hot food and there was no 
time to brood. Not being let out to work — that was 
real punishment. 

“Why weren’t you up yet? Let’s go to the 
Commandant’s office,” the Tartar drawled— he and 
Shukhov and everyone alse knew what he was 
getting the can for. 

There was a blank look on the Tartar’s hairless, 
crumpled face. He turned around and looked for 
somebody else to pick on, but everyone — whether in 
the dark or under a light, whether on a bottom bunk 
or a top one— was shoving his legs into the black, 
padded trousers with numbers on the left knee. Or 
they were already dressed and were wrapping them- 
selves up and hurrying for the door to wait outside 
till the Tartar left. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

If Shukhov had been sent to the can for some- 
thing he deserved he wouldn’t have been so upset. 
What made him mad was that he was always one of 
the first to get up. But there wasn’t a chance of 
getting out of it with the Tartar. So he went on 
asking to be let off just for the hell of it, but mean- 
time pulled on his padded trousers (they too had a 
worn, dirty piece of cloth sewed above the left knee, 
with the number S-854 painted on it in black and 
already faded), put on his jacket (this had two 
numbers, one on the chest and one on the back), 
took his boots from the pile on the floor, put on his 
cap (with the same number in front), and went out 
after the Tartar. 

The whole Gang 104 saw Shukhov being taken 
off, but no one said a word. It wouldn’t help, and 
what could you say ? The gang boss might have 
stood up for him, but he’d left already. And 
Shukhov himself said nothing to anyone. He didn’t 
want to aggravate the Tartar. They'd keep his 
breakfast for him and didn’t have to be told. 

The two of them went out. 

It was freezing cold, with a fog that caught your 
breath. Two large searchlights were crisscrossing 
over the compound from the watchtowers at the far 
corners. The lights on the perimeter and the lights 
inside the camp were on full force. There were so 
many of them that they blotted out the stars. 

With their felt boots crunching on the snow, 
prisoners were rushing past on their business — to 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

the latrines, to the supply rooms, to the package 
room, or to the kitchen to get their groats cooked. 
Their shoulders were hunched and their coats 
buttoned up, and they all felt cold, not so much 
because of the freezing weather as because they knew 
they’d have to be out in it all day. But the Tartar 
in his old overcoat with shabby blue tabs walked 
steadily on and the cold didn’t seem to bother him 
at all. 

They went past the high wooden fence around the 
punishmept block (the stone prison inside the camp), 
past the barbed-wire fence that guarded the bakery 
from the prisoners, past the corner of the HQ where 
a length of frost-covered rail was fastened to a post 
with heavy wire, and past another post where — in a 
sheltered spot to keep the readings from being too 
low — the thermometer hung, caked over with ice. 
Shukhov gave a hopeful sidelong glance at the milk- 
white tube. If it went down to forty-two below zero 
they weren’t supposed to be marched out to work. 
But today the thermometer wasn’t pushing forty or 
anything like it. 

They went into HQ — straight into the warders’ 
room. There it turned out — as Shukhov had already 
had a hunch on the way — that they never meant to 
put him in the can but simply that the floor in the 
warders’ room needed scrubbing. Sure enough, the 
Tartar now told Shukhov that he was letting him off 
and ordered him to mop the floor. 

Mopping the floor in the warders’ room was the 
job of a special prisoner— the HQ orderly, who never 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

worked outside the camp. But a long time ago he’d 5 
set himself up in HQ and now had a free run of the 
rooms where the Major, the disciplinary officer, and 
the security chief worked. He waited on them all the 
time and sometimes got to hear things even the 
warders didn’t know. And for some time he’d figured 
that to scrub floors for ordinary warders was a little 
beneath him. They called for him once or twice, then 
got wise and began pulling in ordinary prisoners to 
do the job. 

The stove in the warders’ room was blazing away. 
A couple of warders who’d undressed down to their 
dirty shirts were playing checkers, and a third who’d 
left on his belted sheepskin coat and felt boots was 
sleeping on a narrow bench. There was a bucket and 
rag in the corner. 

Shukhov was real pleased and thanked the Tartar 
for letting him off : 

“Thank you, Comrade Warder. I’ll never get up 
late again.” 

The rule here was simple — finish your job and get 
out. Now that Shukhov had been given some work, 
his pains seemed to have stopped. He took the bucket 
and went to the well without his mittens, which he’d 
forgotten and left under his pillow in the rush. 

The gang bosses reporting at the PPS had formed' 
a small group near the post, and one of the younger 
ones, who was once a Hero of the Soviet Union, 
climbed up and wiped the thermometer. 

The others were shouting up to him : “Don’t 
breathe on it or it’ll go up.” 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

“Go up ... the hell it will ... it won’t make a 
fucking bit of difference anyway.” 

Tyurin — the boss of Shukhov's work gang — was 
not there. Shukhov put down the bucket and dug his 
hands into his sleeves. He wanted to see what was 
going on. 

The fellow up the post said in a hoarse voice : 
“Seventeen and a half below — shit !” 

And after another look just to make sure, he 
jumped down. 

“Anyway, it’s always wrong — it’s a damned liar,” 
someone said. “They’d never put in one that works 

The gang bosses scattered. Shukhov ran to the 
well. Under the flaps of his cap, which he’d lowered 
but hadn’t tied, his ears ached with the cold. 

The top of the well was covered by a thick crust 
of ice so that the bucket would hardly go through the 
hole. And the rope was stiff as a board. 

Shukhov’s hands were frozen, so when he got back 
to the warders’ room with the steaming bucket he 
shoved them in the water. He felt warmer. 

The Tartar had gone, but four of the warders 
were there quarreling. They’d quit playing checkers 
or sleeping and they were arguing about how much 
millet they’d get in January. (There was a shortage 
of food in the local “free” workers’* settlement, and 
though ration cards had gone out a long time ago, 
the warders could still buy some foodstuffs at a cut 
rate the locals couldn’t get.) 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

“Shut the door, you shilhead ! It’s cold,” one of 
them shouted. 

It wasn’t a good idea to get your felt boots wet in 
the morning. You didn’t have anything extra to 
-change into, even if you could run back to your bar- 
racks. During his eight years inside, Shukhov had 
seen all kinds of ups and downs in the footwear situa- 
tion. There’d been times when they’d gone around 
all winter without any felt boots at all, times when 
they hadn’t even seen ordinary boots but only shoes 
made of birch bark or shoes of the “Chelyabinsk 
Tractor Factory model” (that is, made of strips of 
tires that left the marks of the treac( behind them). 
Now the boot situation had begun to look up. In 
October— this because he’d once managed to wangle 
himself a trip to the stores with the number-two man 
in his gang — Shukhov had gotten a pair of sturdy 
boots with good strong toes that were roomy enough 
inside for two thicknesses of warm foot-cloths. For a 
week he was on top of the world and went around 
knocking his new heels together with joy. Then felt 
boots were issued in December and life was great. 
You didn’t want to die. Then some swine in the book- 
keeping department put a bug in the Commandant’s 
ear : “Let’em have the felt boots, but make’em hand 
in the others. It’s not right for a prisoner to have two 
pairs at the same time.” So Shukhov had to choose 
whether he’d get through the whole winter in the 
new boots or take the felt boots— right through the 
.spring thaws — and hand in the new ones. He’d 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

treated them with loving care, he rubbed them with 
grease to make the leather soft, those lovely new 
boots. During the whole eight years, nothing had hit 
him more than having to turn in those boots. They’d 
been dumped with all the others in one heap, and 
he’d never find them again in the spring. 

Now Shukhov had an idea. He quickly kicked 
off his felt bools, stood them in a corner, threw the 
foot-cloths on top of them (the spoon he always kept 
in one boot clattered onto the floor — even in the rush 
to leave the barracks, he hadn’t forgotten it), and 
dropped to the floor in his bare feet and started 
sloshing water right under the warders’ boots. 

“Take it easy, you bastard !” one of them said, 
seeing what Shukhov was up to, and he lifted up his 

. . . “What do you mean, rice ? That’s on a different 
quota and and there’s just no comparison.”... 

“Why are you using all that water, stupid? That’s 
no way to wash a floor.” 

“There’s no other way. Comrade Warder ! Tht 
dirt’s worked right into it.” 

“Didn’t you ever see your old lady wash the 
floor, stupid?” 

Shukhov straightened up and held the dripping 
rag in his hand. He gave an innocent smile which 
showed that some of his teeth were missing — they'd 
been thinned out by scurvy at Ust-Izhma in 1943, a 
time when he thought he was on his last legs. He 
was really far gone. He had the runs, with bleeding, 
and his insides were so worn out he couldn’t keep*’ 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

anything down. But now all that was left from those 
days was his funny way of talking. 

“They took me away from her in 1941, Comrade 
Warder. I don’t even remember what she was like.” 

“Just look at how they mop.. The bastards can't 
do anything and don’t want to either. They’re not 
worth the bread we give ’em. They ought to get shit 

“Anyway, why mop the fucking thing every day? 
It makes the place damp all the time. Now, 854, 
listen here. Just wipe it over a little so it’s not too 
wet and get the hell out of here.” 

...“Rice! You can’t compare millet and rice!”... 

Shukhov quickly finished up the job. There’s 
work and work. It’s like the two ends of a stick. If 
you’re working for human beings, then do a real job 
of it, but if you work for dopes, then you just go 
through the motions. Otherwise they’d all have kicked 
the bucket long ago. That was for sure. 

Shukhov went over the floorboards, leaving no 
dry patches, threw his rag behind the stove without 
wringing it out, pulled on his boots, splashed the 
water out of his pail onto the path used by the top 
brass, and cut across to the mess hall, past the bath- 
house and the dark, cold recreation hall. 

He also had to make it to the hospital block— he 
was aching all over again. Then he had to keep out 
of sight of the warders in front of the mess hall. The 
Commandant had given strict orders to pick up any 
stray prisoners and put them in the cells. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Today (this didn’t often happen) there wasn’t a. 
big crowd lined up in front of the mess hall. So he 
went straight in. 

It was like a steam bath inside — what with the 
frosty air coming in through the doors and the steam 
from the thin camp gruel. The men were sitting at 
tables or crowding in the spaces between them, wait- 
ing for places. Shouting their way through the mob, 
two or three prisoners from each gang were carrying 
bowls of gruel and mush on wooden trays and look- 
ing for a place for them on the tables. And even so, 
they don’t hear you, the dopes, they bump into your 
tray and you spill the stuff! And then you let them 
have it in the neck with your free hand ! That’s how 
to do it. That’ll teach them to get in the way look- 
ing out for leftovers. 

On the other side of the table there was a young 
fellow who was crossing himself before he started to 
eat. Must have been a Western Ukrainian* and new 
to the place. The Russians didn’t even remember 
which hand you cross yourself with. 

It was cold sitting in the mess hall and most of 
the men ate with their caps on, but without hurrying, 
chasing bits of rotten fish among the cabbage leaves 
and spitting the bones out on the table. When there 
was a whole pile of them, someone would sweep 
them off before the next gang came, and they were 
ground underfoot on the floor. 

Spitting the bones out on the floor was thought 
bad manners. 

In the middle of the mess hall there were two 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

rows of what you might call pillars or supports. 
Fetyukov, another fellow from the same gang, was- 
sitting by one of them and guarding Shukhov’s break- 
fast. He didn’t count for much in the gang — even 
less than Shukbov. To look at them, the gang was 
all the same — the same black overcoats and numbers 
— but underneath they were all different. You couldn't 
ask the Captain to guard your bowl, and there were 
jobs even Shukhov wouldn’t do— jobs that were 
beneath him. 

Fetyukov spotted Shukhov and gave up his seat 
with a sigh. 

“It’s all cold now. I was going to eat it for you 
— I thought you were in the cooler.” 

He didn’t wait around. He knew that Shukhov 
wouldn’t leave him any. He’d polish off both bowls 

Shukhov pulled his spoon out of his boot. He 
was very fond of his spoon, which had gone with him 
all over the North. He’d made it himself from alumi- 
num wire and cast it in sand. And he’d scratched on 
it : “Ust-Izhma, 1944.”* 

Then Shukhov took his cap off his shaved liead- 
however cold it was, he would never eat with it on. 
He stirred up the cold gruel and took a quick look 
to see what was in his bowl. It was the usual thing. 
It hadn’t been ladled from the top of the caldron, 
but it wasn’t the stuff from the bottom either. He 
wouldn’t put it past Fetyukov to pinch a potato 
from it. 

The only good thing about camp gruel was it was< 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

usually hot, but what Shukhov had was now quite 
cold. Even so, he ate it slow and careful like he 
always did. Mustn’t hurry now, even if the roof 
caught fire. Apart from sleeping, the prisoners’ time 
was their own only for ten minutes at breakfast, five 
minutes at the noon break, and another five minutes 
at supper. 

The gruel didn’t change from one day to the next. 
It depended on what vegetables they’d stored for 
winter. The year before they’d only stocked up with 
salted carrots, so there was nothing but carrots in 
the gruel from September to June. And now it was 
cabbage. The camp was fed best in June, when they 
ran out of vegetables and started using groats instead. 
The worst time was July, when they put shredded 
nettles in the caldron. 

The fish was mostly bones. The flesh was boiled 
off except for bits on the tails and the heads. Not 
leaving a single scale or speck of flesh on the skeleton, 
Shukhov crunched and sucked the bones and spit 
them out on the table. He didn’t leave anything — not 
even the gills or the tail. He ate the eyes too when 
they were still in place, but when they’d come off and 
were floating around in the bowl on their own he 
didn’t eat them. The others laughed at him for 

Shukhov made a kind of saving today. He hadn’t 
been back to his barracks to collect his bread ration, 
and now he was eating without it. Bread — well, you 
could always eat that by itself, and he’d feel less 
hungry later on. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

The second course was a mush out of magara. It 
was one solid lump, and Shukhov broke it off in 
pieces. When it was hot — never mind when it was 
cold — it had no taste and didn’t fill you. It was noth- 
ing but grass that looked like millet. They’d gotten 
the bright idea of serving it instead of groats. It came 
from the Chinese, they said. They got ten ounces of 
it and that was that. It wasn’t the real thing, but it 
passed for mush. 

He licked his spoon, pushed it back in his boot, 
put on his cap, and went to the hospital block. 

The sky was as dark as ever, and the stars were 
blotted out by the camp lights. And the two search- 
lights were cutting broad swathes through the com- 
pound. At the time they set up the camp — it was a 
“Special” one*— -the guards still had a lot of flares. 
If the electricity failed, they’d send a shower of 
rockets over the compound — white, green, and red — 
just like at the front. Then they stopped using them. 
Maybe they thought it was too expensive. 

It was just as dark as it was at reveille. But from 
this, that and the other an old hand could see that 
roll call would soon be sounded. Clubfoot’s assistant 
(Clubfoot was a mess-hall orderly who kept an 
assistant out of his own pocket) had gone to summon 
Barracts 6 to breakfast. Number 6 was for invalids, 
men who couldn’t work off the compound. An old 
artist with a little beard trotted over to the Culture 
and Education Section (CES) to get paint and a 
brush to paint number tags for prison uniforms. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Once more the Tartar dashed across the yard toward 
HQ. There weren’t many people around. They’d all 
gone under cover and were warming themselves these 
last sweet minutes. 

Shukhov ducked behind the corner of a hut to get 
out of the Tartar’s way. If he caught him a second 
time he’d screw him good. Anyway, you had to keep 
your eyes open all the time. You had to be careful 
the warders didn’t see you alone, but only in a crowd. 
They were always on the lookout for someone to do 
a job or to have someone to pick on if they were in a 
lousy mood. They’d put out a standing order in the 
camp that you had to take your cap off at a distance 
of five paces when you saw a warder, and keep it off 
till you were two paces past him. Some of the ward- 
ers wandered around with their eyes shut and just 
didn't care, but others got a kick out of it. The num- 
ber of guys that had been put in the can just on this! 
No thank you. Better to wait around the corner. 

The Tartar went by. And Shukhov was just about 
to go on to the hospital when he suddenly remem- 
bered that the Latvian in Barracks 7 had told him 
to come this morning before roll call to buy a couple 
of mugs of tobacco. But Shukhov was so busy it had 
gone clean out of his head. The big Latvian had 
gotten a package from home the evening before, and 
maybe by tomorrow there wouldn’t be any left. It 
might be a month before there’d be another package. 
And his tobacco was good. It had the right strength 
and it smelled good and it was sort of brownish. 

Shukhov felt bothered and stopped dead. Should 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

he look in at Number 7 ? But he was near the hospi- 
tal, so he went on up to the steps. The snow crunched 
under his feet. 

The corridor in the hospital was so clean — it 
always was — that he was scared to walk along it. The 
walls were painted a shiny white, and the furniture 
was all white as well. 

But the office doors were shut. The doctors must 
still be in bed. One of the medics — a young fellow by 
the name of Nikolay Vdovushkin -was sitting in the 
orderlies’ room at a nice clean desk and he was 
wearing a nice clean white coat. He was writing 

There was no one else around. 

Shukhov took off his hat, as though this was one 
of the higher-ups, and in the good old camp fashion, 
looking at things you weren’t supposed to see, he 
couldn’t help noticing that Vdovushkin was writing 
in neat, straight lines, starting each line right under 
the one before with a capital letter and leaving a 
little room at the side. Shukhov saw at once, of course 
that this wasn’t work but some stuff of his own and 
none of Shukhov’s business. 

“Listen, Nikolay Semyonovich, I’m feeling kind 
of sick,” he said, with a hangdog look, as if he was 
trying to scrounge something. 

Vdovushkin looked up from his work, cool and 
wide-eyed. He wore a white cap, to match his coat, 
and he had no number tags. 

“But why did you wait till now ? And why didn’t 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

doctor who’d come with a recent batch of prisoners— 
Stepan Grigoryevich, a loudmouth know-it-all who 
never stayed still himself and never let the patients 
alone either. He’d had the bright idea of putting all 
the walking cases to work around the hospital, mak- 
ing fences and paths and carrying earth to the flower- 
beds. And in the winter there was always snow to 
clear. He kept saying that work was the best cure 
for illness. 

What he didn't understand was that work has 
killed many a horse. If he'd put in a little hard work 
laying bricks, he wouldn’t go around shooting off his 
mouth so much. 

Vdovushkin was still writing away. He really was 
doing something on the side, something that didn’t 
mean much to Shukhov. He was copying out a long 
poem that he’d given the finishing touches to the day 
before and had promised to show Stepan Grigorye- 
vich today— the man who believed in work as a 

This sort of thing could only happen in a camp. 
It was Stepan Grigoryevich who told Vdovushkin to 
say he was a medic and then gave him the job. So 
Vdovushkin started learning how to give injections to 
poor, ignorant prisoners who would never let it enter 
their simple, trusting minds that a medic might not 
be a medic at all. Nikolay had studied literature at 
the university and had been arrested in his second 
year. Stepan Grigoryevich wanted him to write the 
sort of thing here he couldn’t write “outside”. 

The signal for roll call came faintly through the 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

double windows. They were covered by ice. Shukhov 
sighed and stood up. He still felt feverish, but it 
looked as though he had no chance to get out of 
work. Vdovushkin reached for his thermometer and 
squinted at it. 

“Look, it’s hard to say — just under ninety-nine. If 
it were over a hundred, it’d be a clear case. But as 
things are I can’t let you off. Take a chance and stay 
if you want. If the doctor takes a look at you and 
thinks you’re sick, he’ll let you off. But if not, it’s 
the cooler for you. You’d be better off going to 

Shukhov said nothing. He didn’t even nod. He 
rammed on his cap and went out. 

When you are cold, don’t expect sympathy from 
someone who’s warm. 

The air outside hit Shukhov. The cold and the 
biting mist took hold of him and made him cough. 
It was 16 degrees below, while his own temperature 
was 99 above. He had to fight it out. 

Shukhov trotted off to his barracks. The yard was 
absolutely empty. There wasn’t a soul to be seen. It 
was that short, blissful moment when there was no 
way out any more, but people kidded themselves that 
there was and that there wouldn’t be a roll call. The 
escort guards were sitting in their warm barracks, 
leaning their heads against their rifles — it was no 
picnic for them either to kick their heels on top of 
watchtowers in this freezing cold. The guards in the 
main guardhouse threw some more coal in the stove. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

The warders in the warders’ room were finishing 
their last cigarette before going out to search the 

The prisoners — they were now dressed in all their 
rags, tied around with all their bits of string and their 
faces wrapped in rags from chin to eyes to protect 
them from the cold — were lying on their bunks on 
top of their blankets with their boots on, quite still 
and with their eyes closed. Just a few seconds more 
until the gang boss would yell : “Fall out !” 

Nearly all the men in Barracks 9, including Gang 
104, were dozing. Only the assistant gang boss, 
Pavlo, was busy, moving his lips as he counted some- 
thing with the help of a small pencil. And on a top 
bunk the Baptist Alyoshka, Shukhov’s neighbor, neat 
and cleanly washed, was reading his notebook in 
which he had half the Gospels copied down. 

Shukhov raced in but didn’t make a sound, and 
went to Pavlo’s bunk. 

Pavlo raised his head. “Didn't they put you in 
the cooler, Ivan Denisovich? And are you still 
alive ?” (They simply couldn't teach Western 
Ukrainians to change their ways. Even in camp 
they were polite to people and addressed them by 
tbeir full name.) 

Pavlo handed him his bread ration from the table. 
There was a little white heap of sugar on top of it. 

He was in a great hurry, but he answered just as 
politely (even an assistant gang boss is a big shot of 
sorts, and more depends on him than on the 
Commandant). He scooped up the sugar with his 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

lips, licked the bread clean with his tongue, and put 
-one leg on the ledge to climb up and make his bed. 
He looked at the ration, turning it, weighing it in his 
hand as he moved, to see if it was the full pound 
-due him. Shukhov had had thousands of these rations 
in prisons and camps, and though he’d never had a 
chance to weigh a single one of them on a scale and 
he was always too shy to stick up for his rights, he 
and every other prisoner had known a long time that 
the people who cut up and issued your bread 
wouldn’t last long if they gave you honest rations. 
Every ration was short. The only question was — by 
how much ? So you checked every day to set your 
mind at rest, hoping you hadn’t been too badly 
treated. (“Perhaps my ration is almost full weight 

“It’s about half an ounce short,” Shukhov figured, 
and he broke the bread in two. He stuck half inside 
his clothes — into his jacket, where he’d sewed in a 
little white pocket (the factory makes prison jackets 
without pockets). He thought of eating the other 
half, the one he hadn’t eaten at breakfast, right away, 
but food eaten quickly isn’t food. Is does no good, 
doesn’t fill you. He made a move to shove his half- 
ration in his locker, but changed his mind again. 
He remembered the orderlies had already been 
beaten up twice for thieving. The barracks was as 
public as the courtyard of an apartment building. 

So, not letting go of the bread, Ivan Denisovich 
pulled his feet out of his felt boots, neatly leaving his 
foot-cloths and spoon inside them, climbed up bare- 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

footed, widened the little hole in his mattress, and 
hid the other half of his rations in the sawdust. He 
snatched his cap off his head, pulled a needle and 
thread out of it (this too was hidden carefully 
because they also checked prisoners’ caps at 
inspection ; once a warder had pricked himself on the 
needle and had been so angry he’d almost smashed 
Shukhov’s head in). Three quick stitches and he’d 
sewed up the hole where the ration was hidden. 
Meanwhile the sugar in his mouth had melted. 
Shukhov’s whole body was tense : at any moment the 
work-controller would start yelling in the doorway. 
Shukhov’s fingers moved like lightning while his 
mind was running ahead thinking what he had to do 

The Baptist was reading the Gospels not just to 
himself but almost aloud. Maybe this was for 
Shukhov’s benefit (these Baptists love to spread a 
little propaganda) : 

“But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a 
thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other 
men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, 
let him not be ashamed ; but let him glorify God on 
this behalf.” 

One great thing about Alyoshka was he was so 
clever at hiding this book in a hole in the wall that it 
hadn’t been found on any of the searches. 

With the same swift movements, Shukhov hung 
his overcoat on a crossbeam, and from under the 
mattress he pulled out his mittens, a pair of thin 
foot-cloths, a bit of rope, and a piece of rag with 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

two tapes. He evened the sawdust in his mattress a 
little (the stuff was heavy and hard-packed), tucked 
in his blanket all around, threw his pillow into place, 
then climbed down barefooted and started putting 
on his foot wrappings - first his good new foot-cloths 
and then on top the ones that weren’t so good. 

Then the gang boss cleared his throat loudly, got 
up and shouted : 

“Snap out of it, 104! Out-si-ide!” 

Right away everyone in the gang, whether snooz- 
ing or not, yawned and made for the door. The gang 
boss had been in camps for nineteen years, and he 
wouldn’t chase you out to the roll call one second too 
early. When he said “Outside !” the time had really 

As the men filed out without a word, clumping 
their feet, first into the corridor, then through the 
entry way and out to the steps — and after the boss of 
Gang 20 had also yelled “Out-si-ide !” the same way 
as Tyurin — Shukhov managed to put on his felt 
boots over his two pairs of foot-cloths. Then he put 
his overcoat over his jacket and tied it tightly with the 
rope (leather belts were taken away from prisoners — 
they weren’t allowed in “Special” camps). 

Shukhov finished all his chores and caught up with 
the last of the men in the entryway as they filed 
through the door and out to the steps. Bulky, wearing 
everything they had, they edged put in the single file, 
and nobody was in a hurry to get out first. They 
trudged toward the yard and you could only hear the 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

^crunch of their boots. 

It was still dark, though the sky in the east was 
getting bright and looked kind of green. A nasty 
little wind was blowing. 

This was the toughest moment — when you lined 
up for roll call in the morning. Into the bitter cold 
in the darkness with an empty belly — for the whole 
day. You’d lost the use of your tongue. You didn’t 
want to talk to anyone. 

Near the perimeter a deputy work-controller was 
going frantic. 

“Well, Tyurin, how long are we supposed to 
wait? Dragging your feet again, eh?” 

Maybe Shukhov was frightened of him, but not 
Tyurin. He wouldn’t waste his breath on him in this 
cold, and he just trudged on without a word. The 
gang came after him over the snow : tramp-tramp- 
tramp, crunch-crunch-crunch. 

The boss must have slipped the fellow two pounds 
of fatfcack — you could see from the other gangs near- 
by the Gang 104 was being lined up in its usual 
place. It was only the other poor suckers who’d be 
marched off to the Socialist Community Develop- 
ment. God, it’d be hell there today, with a tempera- 
ture of sixteen below and the wind and no cover at 

The boss needed a lot of fatback to slip to the 
people in the PPS and still have enough left for his 
own belly. He didn’t get any packages from home, 
but he was never short of fatback. It was always 
handed over to him right away by anyone in the 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

gang who got some. 

That was the only way you could live. 

The chief work-controller made a note on a board, 

“Tyurin, you have one sick today and twenty-three 
to go out. Right ?” 

“Twenty-three.” The boss nodded. 

Who was missing? Panteleyev wasn’t there. But 
was he sick ? 

And right away there was a lot of whispering in 
the gang. Panteleyev the sonofabitch had managed 
to get out of it again. He wasn’t sick at all — the 
security officer had kept him behind. He’d be 
squealing on somebody again. 

They could easily send for him in the daytime — 
keep him there three hours if they liked — and no- 
body’d be any the wiser. 

They worked it through the sick list. 

The whole yard was black with prisoners’ coats, 
and the gangs shuffled forward to be frisked. Shukhov 
remembered that he wanted to get the number on his 
jacket redone, and made his way over to the other 
side of the yard. There were a couple of men 
waiting in front of the artist. Shukhov joined them. 
These number tags were nothing but trouble. The 
warders could spot you a long way off and the 
guards could write the number down when you did 
something wrong. And if you didn’t have it redone, 
they'd put you in the cooler for not looking after it 

There were three of these artists in the camp. They 
painted picture free for the higher-ups, and also 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

took turns painting numbers at roll call. Today it 
was the old man with the little gray beard. When he 
painted the number on your cap, it was like a priest 
anointing your brow. He’d paint a little, and then a 
little more— and breath on his fingertips. His knitted 
mittens were thin and his hands went stiff with cold 
so he couldn’t make the numbers. 

The artist gave Shukhov a new “S-854” on his 
jacket, and Shukhov, with his rope belt in his hand — 
not bothering to fasten up his coat because they 
weren’t far from the friskers — went back to his gang. 
And he noticed at once that another fellow from his 
gang, Caesar, was smoking— not his pipe, but a ciga- 
rette —which meant there was a chance of cadging a 
smoke. But Shukhov didn’t ask him outright. He 
stopped just next to Caesar, turned halfway towards 
him, and then looked past him. 

He looked past as if he didn’t care, but he could 
see how after every drag (Caesar was thinking about 
something and he wasn’t taking many drags) the rim 
of red ash moved along the cigarette and burned it 
down nearer and nearer to the holder. 

Right at this moment, that scavenger Fetyukov 
latched onto them, and stood right in front of Caesar 
and stared with burning eyes at his mouth. 

Shukhov didn’t have a shred of tobacco left and 
saw no chance of getting any today before the 
evening. He was tense all over from waiting, and 
.right now he thought he’d rather have this butt than 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

4iis freedom. But he wouldn’t stoop as low as Fetyu- 
kov and look straight at the guy’s mouth. 

Caesar was a mixture of all races — whether he 
was a Greek, a Jew, or a gypsy you just couldn’t 
tell. He was still young. He’d been a cameraman for 
the movies — but they put him inside before he’d 
finished shooting his first film. He had a big, black, 
bushy mustache. They hadn’t shaven it off here 
because this was bow he looked on the photo in his 

“Caesar Markovich.” Fetyukov drooled at him — 
he couldn’t stand it any longer — “please give me one 
little drag!” He wanted it so badly his face was 
twitching all over. 

Caesar’s eyebrows went up a little — they were half- 
lowered over his black eyes — and he looked at Fetyu- 
kov. The reason he’d started smoking a pipe was so 
that people wouldn’t bother him and cadge butts from 
him. It wasn’t that he grudged them the tobacco, 
but he didn’t like having his thoughts interrupted. 
He smoked to help his mind come up with great 
ideas. But all he needed to do was light a cigarette 
and right away he could see that look in people’s 
eyes: “Leave a bit for me.” 

Caesar turned to Shukhov and said: “Here you 
are, Ivan Denisovich!” 

He twisted the burning butt out of the short amber 
holder with his thumb. 

Shukhov jumped (even though he’d thought Cae- 
sar would .give it to him of his own accord). He took 


One Day in ihe Life of Ivan Denisovich 

it with one hand, quickly and thankfully, and put his- 
other hand underneath to guard against dropping it. 
He wasn’t hurt because Caesar was squeamish about 
letting him smoke it in the holder (some people have 
clean mouths, others have foul mouths), and it didn’t 
hurt his hardened fingers when the butt burned right 
down to them. The great thing was that he’d beaten 
that scavenger Fetyukov to it, and here he was now 
smoking away till it burned his lips. Mmmm. . . . 
The smoke seemed to go all through his hungry body 
and into his feet and his head. 

Just as this wonderful feeling spread all through 
him, Ivan Denisovich heard a roar from the men: 

“They’re taking our undershirts away . . . !” 

That’s life in the camp. Shukhov had gotten used 
to it. Give’em half a chance, if you didn’t watch out 
they’d be at your throat. 

Why shirts? They’d been issued by the Comman- 
dant himself . . . ! No, something was wrong. . . . 

There were only two gangs ahead of them before 
the friskers, and everyone in Gang 104 spotted Lieu- 
tenant Volkovoy, the disciplinary officer. He’d come 
over from HQ and shouted something to the warders. 
And the warders, who’d been taking it easy, now 
really got busy and went for the men like wild ani- 
mals. Their boss yelled: 

“Open your shirts!” 

They said even the Commandant was scared of 
Volkovoy — let alone the prisoners and warders. Not 
for nothing was he called Volkovoy.* And he always- 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

looked at you like a wolf. He was dark and tall and 
scowling, and always dashing around. He’d come at 
you from behind the corner of the barracks, shout- 
ing: “What’s going on here?” You couldn’t keep out 
of bis way. In the early days he carried a whip of 
braided leather as long as his arm. They said he beat 
people with it. And he’d sneak up behind someone 
during the evening roll call and let him have it in the 
neck with his whip. “Get back into line, you scum.” 
Everybody would back away from him. The fellow 
he’d whipped would take hold of his neck and wipe 
off the blood and keep his trap shut so as not to get 
shoved in the cooler on top of it. 

Now, for some reason or other, he’d stopped 
going around with the whip. 

When it was freezing, the frisking routine was not 
so tough in the morning — though it still was in the 

The prisoners undid their coats and held them 
open. They marched up by fives, and five warders 
were waiting for them. They put their hands inside 
the prisoners’ coats and felt their jackets. They pat- 
ted the pocket (the only one allowed) on the right 
knee. They had gloves on, and if they felt something 
odd they didn’t yank it out right away but asked, 
taking their time: “What do you have there?” 

What did they hope to find on a prisoner in the 
morning? Knives? But knives don’t get taken out of 
camp, they get brought in. What they had to watch 
out for in the mornings was people carrying a lot of 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

food to escape with. There was a time when they 
were so worried about bread— a six-ounce ration for 
the noon meal — that an order was issued for each 
gang to make itself a wooden box and put every- 
body’s bread together in it. It was anybody’s guess 
why they thought this would help. Most likely the 
idea was to make things even tougher for people and 
add to their troubles— you took a bite out of it to 
put your markon it, and threw it in the box. But all 
these hunks looked alike anyway. It was all the same 
bread. Then all the way you worried yourself sick 
about not getting your own piece back. And some- 
times you got into a fight with people over it. Then 
one day three fellows escaped from the building site 
in a truck and took one of these boxes with them. 
So the bosses had all the boxes chopped up in the 
guardroom and then they went back to the old 

In the mornings they also had to look out for 
anyone with civilian clothes under his camp uniform. 
They’d long ago taken away these clothes and they 
said you’d get them back when your sentence was up. 
But nobody’d ever been let out of this camp yet. 

And another thing they checked for — letters you 
might try and slip to someone on the outside to mail. 
If they searched everybody for letters, they’d still be 
at it by noon. 

But Voikovoy shouted to the warders to give 
them a real going over, and the warders quickly re- 
moved their gloves, told the men to open their jackets 
(where each man had taken a little of the warmth 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

from his barracks) and undo their shirts. Then they 
began to feel around to see whether extra clothes had 
been put on against regulations. Each prisoner was 
allowed a shirt and vest, and anything extra had to 
come off — that was Volkovoy’s order passed down 
through the ranks of the prisoners. The gangs that 
had gone ahead were lucky — some of them had alreay 
been checked out through the gates. But the rest 
had to open up. Anyone with extra clothing on had 
to strip it off right there in the freezing cold ! 

The warders got busy, but then they had trouble. 
The gates were clear now and the guards were yelling: 
“Come on, come on !” So 104 got a break from 
Volkovoy. He told them to report if they had any- 
thing extra and hand it to the stores that evening 
with a note explaining how and why they’d hidden it. 

Everything on Shukhov was regular issue. Let 
them look, he had nothing to hide. But they caught 
Caesar with a woolen shirt, and the Captain with 
some kind of jersey. The Captain kicked up a fuss, 
just like he used to on his ship— he’d only been here 
three months. 

“You’ve no right to strip people in the cold ! You 
don’t know Article Nine of the Criminal Code !” 

They had the right and they knew the article. 
You’ve still got a lot to learn, brother. 

“You’re not Soviet people,” the Captain kept on 
at them. “Your’e not Communists !” 

Volkovoy could take the stuff about the Criminal 
Code, but this made him mad. He looked black as 
a thundercloud and snapped at him: 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

“Ten days’ solitary !” 

And a bit quieter, he said to the chief warder ' 
“You can see to that in the evening.” 

They didn’t like putting people in solitary in the 
morning because it meant losing a day’s work. So 
let him break his back all day and shove him in the 
cells at night. 

The punishment block was nearby, on the left 
of the perimeter, a stone building with two wings. 
They’d finished building the second wing this autumn 
— one wasn’t enough. The prison had eighteen blocks 
divided into small solitary cells. The rest of the 
camp was made of wood — only the prison was stone. 

The cold had gotten under their shirts — there was 
no getting rid of it now. They’d just wasted their 
time wrapping themselves up. And Shukhov’s back 
ached enough as it was. If only he could lie down in 
a hospital bed right now and sleep. That was all he 
wanted. With a nice heavy blanket. 

The prisoners were standing in front of the gate 
buttoning and tying their coats, and the guards were 
waiting for them outside. 

“Come on ! Come on !” 

And a work-controller was showing them in the 

“Come on ! Come on !” 

First there was one gate just at the perimeter. 
Then a second gate. And there were railings on both 

“Stop !” yelled one of the guards. “Just like a 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

bunch of sheep ! Line up by fives !” 

Now it was getting light. On the other side of 
the guardhouse the escort’s fire was almost out. They 
always lit a fire before roll call to keep warm and to 
get some light for the count. 

A guard was counting in a loud, harsh voice : 
'‘One, two, three !” 

The men peeled off by fives and filed through, so 
whichever way you looked at them, from front or 
behind, you could see five heads, five backs, and ten 

A second guard, whose job it was to check the 
count, stood by the railings without speaking and 
just made sure the number was right. 

The lieutenant stood still and watched. He’d 
come outside to doublecheck the count. That was the 
routine when they left the camp. 

The men meant more to a guard than gold. If 
there was one man missing on the other side of the 
wire, he’d soon be taking his place. 

The gang formed up again. 

Now it was the sergeant who did the counting. 

“One, two, three !” 

Again groups of five men peeled off and marched 
in separate ranks. 

The second-in-command of the escort checked 
•them in on the other side. 

Then there was another lieutenant. He was double- 
checking for the escort. 

They couldn’t afford to make a mistake. If they 
signed for one too many, they’d also had it. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

There were escorts all over the place. They ringed 
the column going to the power station, shouldered 
their tommy guns and pointed them straight at your 
face. And then their were fellows with dogs. One of 
the dogs was baring his teeth like he was laughing 
at the prisoners. The escorts all were short for 
jackets. Only six of them had long sheepskin coats. 
They took turns wearing the long coats — they were 
for the one’s who manned the watchtowers. 

And once again they were lined up by fives and 
re-counted by the escorts. 

“It’s always coldest at dawn,” the Captain ex- 
plained. “Because that’s the last stage of the loss of 
heat by radiation which takes place at night.” 

The Captain liked to explain things. He could 
figure out the phases of the moon, whether new or. 
old, for any day of any year. 

The Captain was clearly going downhill. His: 
cheeks were caved in, but he kept his spirits up. 

The cold here outside the camp, with a wind 
blowing, was biting Shukhov’s face, even though it 
could take almost anything by now. He knew he’d 
have the wind in his face like this all the way to the* 
power plant, so he put his piece of rag over it. Like 
many of the others, he had a rag with two long tapes* 
to use when the wind was in his face. A rag like; 
this really helped. Shukhov put it around his face,, 
right up to his eyes, ran the taps under his ears, and 
tied them behind his head. Then he covered the back 
of his neck with the flap of his cap and pulled up the 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

collar of his jacket. Then he palled down the front 
flap over his forehead. So all you could see was his 
eyes. He tightened his coat around his middle with 
the rope. Now everything was okay. Only his mittens 
were thin and his hands were already frozen. He 
rubbed them and clapped them together. He knew 
that at any moment he’d have to put them behind 
his back and keep them there for the rest of the way. 

The commander of the escort read the daily 
“sermon,” which everyone was fed up with : 

“Your attention, prisoners ! You will keep strict 
columns order on the line of march ! You will not 
straggle or bunch up. You will not change places 
from one rank of five to another. You will not talk or 
look around to either side, and you will keep your 
arm« behind you ! A step to right or left will be 
considered an attempt at escape, and the escort will 
open fire, without warning ! First rank, forward 
march !” 

The first two escort guards must’ve already 
started along the road In front the column swayed, 
men began to swing their shoulders, and the escort 
guards, twenty paces away at either side of the 
column and with ten paces between them, started off, 
their tommy guns at the ready. 

There hadn’t been any new snow for a week now, 
and the road was well trodden. They went around 
the edge of the camp and the wind hit them side- 
ways. Hands behind backs and heads lowered, the 
column started off as if to a funeral. All you could 
see was the legs of the two or three people in front 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

of you and the bit of trampled ground under your 
feet. From time to time a guard shouted : “Y-47 : 
Put your hands behind you !” “B-502 ! Keep up 
there ! ” Then even they began to shout less often. 
The wind whipped them and made it hard for them 
to see. And they weren’t allowed to use face-rags. It 
was no fun for them either 

Everyone talks in the column when it’s warmer, 
no matter how much they’re shouted at. But today 
everyone was bent forward, hiding behind the back 
of the man in front and thinking his own thoughts. 

Even a prisoner’s thoughts weren’t free but kept 
coming back to the same thing, kept turning the 
same things over again. Will they find that bread in 
the mattress ? Will the medics put me on the sick list 
this evening? Will they put the Captain in the cooler 
or not? And where did Caesar get that warm shirt? 
He must’ve gotten it out of someone in the stores 
with a bribe. Where else? 

Since he’d had no bread at breakfast and what 
he’d eaten was cold, Shukhov felt really hungry 
today. And to keep his belly from winning and 
asking for food, he stopped thinking about the camp 
and thought instead about that letter he’d soon be 
sending home. 

The column marched past the carpentry work- 
shop built by the prisoners, past a block of living 
quarters (also built by the prisoners, but for “free” 
workers), and past the new club (also the work of 
prisoners, from the foundations to the decorations 
on the walls, but it was only the “free” ones who saw 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

the movies there). The column came out into the 
steppe with the wind right in their faces, and there 
was a red sunrise. Bare white snow lay as far as the 
eye could see and there wasn’t a tree in sight. 

It was the beginning of a new year— 1951— and 
Sbukhov was allowed to write two letters home this 
year. He’d sent his last one off in July and had an 
answer in October. In Ust-Izhma there had been a 
different system — you could write once a month if 
you wanted. But what can you say in a letter ? He 
hadn’t written any more often there. 

He’d left home on the twenty-third of June, 1941. 
One Sunday morning, people had come back from 
the church in Polomnya and said the war had started. 
They’d heard about it at the Polomnya post office, 
but in Temgenyovo — the village he lived in — no one 
had a radio before the war. Now, they wrote, there 
was “p>PP e d” radio in every hut, blaring all the time. 

Writing now was like throwing stones into a 
bottomless pit. They fell down and disappeared, and 
no sound came back. What was the point of telling 
them what gang you worked in and what your boss 
was like ? Now you had more in common with that 
Latvian Kilgas than with your own family. 

Anyway, they only wrote twice a year, and you 
-couldn’t make out how they were getting along. 
They told you there was a new boss in the kolkhoz — 
but there was nothing new about that, they had a 
new one every year. Or the kolkhoz had been “amal- 
gamated” — but that was nothing new either, they 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

were always amalgamating them and splitting them 
up again. Or somebody hadn’t done his work quota 
and had his private plot cut down to three-eighths of 
an acre, and others had lost it all. 

The thing Shukhov didn’t get at all was what his 
wife wrote about how not a single new member had 
come to the kolkhoz since the war. All the youngsters 
were getting out as best they could — to factories in 
the towns or to the peat fields. Half the kolkhozniks- 
had not come back after the war, and those who had 
wouldn’t have anything to do with the kolkhoz — they 
lived there but earned their money somewhere out- 
side. The only men in the kolkhoz were the gang boss, 
Zakhar Vasilyevich, and the carpenter, Tikhon, who 
was eighty-four, had married not long ago, and even 
had children already. The real work in the kolkhoz 
was done by the same women who’d been there since 
the start, in 1930. 

The thing Shukhov just couldn’t figure out was 
these people living on the farm but working outside. 
Shukhov had seen how it was on both individual and 
collective farms, but the idea of peasants not working 
in their own village— that he just couldn’t take. Did 
they go off to seasonal work or something? And 
what did they do about getting the hay in ? 

His wife had told him they’d given up seasonal 
work a long time ago. They didn’t do any carpentry 
any more — a thing their village was known for every- 
where— and they didn’t weave baskets any more. Who^ 
wanted that sort of thing nowadays? But now they* 
were on to something new— painting carpets. Some- 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

one had got hold of some stencils in the war, and the* 
thing had really caught on. More and more people 
were doing it and getting good at it. They didn’t 
have any regular jobs and they helped in the kolkhoz 
for only a month in the year getting the hay in and 
harvesting. And they got a paper from the kolkhoz 
to say that for the other eleven months they’d been 
let off to take care of their own business and that 
they owed no taxes. They went all over the country 
and even flew in planes because their time was 
valuable. They raked in thousands of rubles painting 
carpets all over the place. They got 50 rubles for a 
carpet painted on some old sheet — these carpets, they 
said, could be finished in an hour. His wife hoped 
he’d be back one day and become one of these painters. 
Then they’d get out of the poverty with which she 
was struggling, send the children to technical school, 
and put up a new hut in place of the rotten old shack 
they were living in now. All these carpet painters were 
putting up new houses, and nowadays it cost you 
25,000 rubles, not 5,000 like in the old days, to build 
a house near the railroad. 

Then •he wrote back to his wife and asked her to' 
tell him how the hell he could be a carpet painter if 
he’d never been able to draw. And what was so great 
about these carpets ? What did they put on them ? ’ 
His wife wrote back that any fool could make them?' 
You just put on the stencil and dabbed paint through 
the holes. There were three kinds. One, the “Troika,” 
had a picture of a carriage drawn by three horses 
will; beautiful harness, and a hussar inside. The 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

second was the “Stag,” and the third was imitation 
Persian. There weren’t any other patterns, but people 
all over the country were glad enough of even these 
and couldn’t get their hands on them fast enough, 
because a real carpet doesn’t cost 50 rubles — it costs 

Shukhov would have given a lot to see these 

In all the time he spent in camps and prisons, Ivan 
Denisovich had gotten out of the habit of worrying 
about the next day, or the next year, much less how 
to feed his family. The fellows at the top thought 
about everything for him, and it was kind of easier 
like that. Winter after winter, summer after summer 
— he still had a long time to go. But this business 
-about the carpets upset him. 

It looked like an easy, sure-fire way of making 
money. And it would be sort of wrong if he didn’t 
keep up with the other fellows in the village. But 
"deep down inside, Ivan Denisovich didn’t want to 
have anything to do with this carpet business. Yotf 
had to have a lot of gall and you had to know how 
to grease the right palm. Shukhov had been walking 
this earth for forty years. He’d lost half his teeth and 
he was getting bald. He'd never given or taken a 
bribe from anybody, and he hadn’t learned that trick 
in the camp either. 

Easy money doesn’t weigh anything and it doesn’t 
give you that good feeling you get when you really 
earn it. The old saying was true— what you don’t pay 
for honestly, you don't get good value for. Shukhov’s 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

hands were still good for something. Back home he’d* 
surely find himself work making stoves, or something 
in the carpentry line, mending pots and pans. 

The only catch was — if you’d been convicted with 
loss of civil rights, you couldn’t get work anywhere 
and you weren’t allowed back home. So maybe it 
would have to be those carpets after all. 

The column had now arrived and stopped in front 
of the guardroom of the vast compound where the 
building site was. A little before that, two of the 
escorts in sheepskin coats had peeled off at a corner 
of the compound and made for the watchtowers at 
the far end. The prisoners would only be let in when 
the watchtowers had been manned. The officer in 
charge, with a tommy gun over his shoulder, went to 
the guardhouse. And there were great clouds of smoke 
pouring out of the guardroom chimney. They had a 
watchman there all night — a “free” worker, not a 
prisoner — so boards and cement wouldn’t be stolen. 

The big, red sun, sort of covered in mist, was 
slanting through the wires of the gate, across the 
whole compound and through the wire far over on 
the other side. Alyoshka, at Shukhov’s side, looked 
at the sun and rejoiced. A smile came to his lips. 
His cheeks were sunken, he lived only on his ration 
and didn’t earn anything extra. What was he so 
pleased about? On Sundays he spent all the time 
whispering with the other Baptists. The camp didn’t 
worry them— it was like water off a duck’s back. 

Shukhov’s face-rag had gotten all wet from his 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

"breath on the way, and it was frozen and bad turned 
into an icy crust. He shoved it off his face onto his 
neck and stood with his back to the wind. He wasn’t 
cold all through, but his hands were frozen in the 
thin mittens and the toes of his left foot had gotten 
numb — it was that left boot which had a hole burned 
in it and had to be sewed up again. 

He had an aching pain all the way from the small 
of his back to his shoulders, so how could he work? 
He looked around and caught sight of the gang boss. 
He was at the end of the column. He had powerful 
shoulders and a large face. He looked grim. He 
didn’t stand for any fucking nonsense in the gang, but 
he kept them pretty well fed and was always worried 
about getting them a good ration. He was doing his 
second sentence and he had lived practically all his 
life in the camps. What he didn’t know about the 
camps wasn’t worth knowing. 

In a camp, your gang boss is everything. A good 
one can give you a new lease on life, but a bad one 
will finish you off. Shukhov had known Tyurin in 
the old Ust-lzhma days, only he wasn’t in his gang 
there. And when prisoners sentenced under Article 
58 * had been switched from the ordinary camp at 
Ust-lzhma to the penal camp, Tyurin had picked 
him out. Shukhov never had any dealings with the 
Commandant, the PPS, the work-supervisors, and the 
engineers. The boss took care of all that sort of 
thing. He was like a rock. But he only had to raise 
an eyebrow or point a finger and you ran off to do 
what he wanted. You could cheat anyone you liked 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

in the camp, but not Tyurin. That way you’d stay 

Shukhov wanted to ask him if they were going to 
work in the same place like yesterday or if they were 
going to another place, but he didn’t dare break in 
on his thoughts. He’d only just wangled them out of 
the Socialist Community Development, and now he 
must have been figuring out how to get them good 
rates for the job. And their ration for the next five 
days depended on this. 

Tyurin’s face was covered with large pockmarks. 
He could face the wind without wincing — the skin on 
his face was tough like the bark of an oak tree. 

The men in the column were slapping their hands 
together and stamping their feet. The wind was 
brutal. It looked like the guards were already up on 
all six watchtowers, but the men were still not being 
let inside. They must have another security drive on. 

Here it was ! The officer in charge of the escort 
came out of the guardroom with an inspector. They 
stood on each side of the gate and opened it. 

“Line up by fi-i-ves ! One ! Two-o !” 

The prisoners marched as though they were on 
parade — almost like soldiers. Once they got into the 
compound, they knew what to do without being told. 

Just past the guardroom was the work office. The 
work-supervisor was standing there, calling over the 
gang bosses. And one of the foremen — a man called 
Dcr — went over to them. A real bastard. He was a 
prisoner himself, but he treated everybody else like 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

It was eight o’clock, maybe five minutes past (the- 
steam engine they used to generate power had just 
given a blast on its whistle). The fellows in charge 
were scared stiff about the prisoners wasting time 
and ducking into shelters to keep warm. But the 
prisoners had a long day and took their time. As 
soon as they got into the compound they started 
bending down to pick up pieces of wood. It all came 
in handy for the stove back in camp. 

Tyurin told his assistant, Pavlo, to come to the 
office with him. Caesar went along too. Caesar was 
rich, got two packages from home every month, and 
bribed all the right people. He had a soft job in the 
office, helping the fellow in charge of the work sheets. 

The rest of Gang 104 took off like greased light- 

The sun came up, red and hazy, over the empty 
compound. There were panels for prefabs covered 
over with snow, and the beginning of a brick wall 
they’d stopped work on. Then there was a broken 
part of a bulldozer. And a scoop and some metal 
scrap. There were ditches, trenches, and holes all 
over the place. The vehicle-repair shops were finished 
except for the roofs, and on a rise there was a power 
plant where they’d started on the second story. 

Everybody was out of sight — all but the six sentries 
standing on the watchtowers and the men bustling 
around the office. This was the best moment in the 
day for a prisoner. They said the chief supervisor 
had threatened no end of times to pass out the work 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

orders the evening before. But it never really worked 
because they’d always change their minds by the 

But as it was they now had a moment to them- 
selves. While they were figuring things out, you 
could find some warm spot and stay there for a spell 
before you started breaking your back. It was good 
if you could get near the stove to take your foot- 
cloths off, warm them a little, and then put them on 
again. Then your feet would be warm all day long. 
But even if you couldn’t get to a stove it was still 

Gang 104 went to the repair shops, where they’d 
put window panes in last autumn, and Gang 38 was 
making concrete blocks. Some of these blocks were 
lying around in their molds, others were standing 
upright, and there was steel meshwork for rein- 
forcing the concrete. There was a high roof and an 
earthen floor, and it never really got warm here. But 
it was heated and they weren’t stingy with the coal 
— not so people could get warm, but so the blocks 
would set better. There was even a thermometer, 
and on Sundays, if the prisoners weren’t working, 
they had a “free” worker in there to keep the fire 

Of course, the men of Gang 38 were hogging the 
stove, drying out their foot-cloths. Okay, so the rest 
of us have to sit in a corner. What the hell. 

Shukhov perched on the edge of a wooden mold 
with his back to the wall. The seat of his padded 
pants had seen worse. When he leaned back, his coat 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

and jacket pulled tight around his body, and on the 
left side of his chest, by his heart, he felt something 
hard. This was the hunk of bread in his inside pocket, 
the half of his morning ration he’d saved for the 
meal break. He always brought this much with him 
to work and never touched it before the meal break. 
He always ate the other half at breakfast, but today 
he hadn’t. He now saw it wasn’t a saving at all. He 
felt a great hunger pang and wanted to eat it right 
away in this warm place. There were five hours till 
the meal break — it was a long time. 

The pain in his back had now shifted to his legs 
and they felt all weak. If only he could get near the 

He put his mittens on his knees, undid his coat, 
untied the frozen face-rag from his neck, broke the 
ice to fold it up, and put it in his pocket. Then he 
took the bread in a piece of white cloth and cradled it 
behind the flap of his coat not to lose a single crumb, 
starting gradually nibbling at it and chewing it. He 
had carried the bread under two layers of clothes 
and warmed it with his own body, so it wasn’t frozen 
at all. 

In the camps he often remembered how they used 
to eat at home in the village — potatoes by the panful 
and pots of kasha, and in the early days before that, 
great hunks of meat. And they swilled enough milk to 
make their bellies burst. But he understood in the 
camps this was all wrong. You had to eat with all 
your thoughts on the food, like he was nibbling off 
these little bits now, and turn them over on your 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

tongue, and roll them over in your mouth — and then 
it tasted so good, this soggy black bread. What had 
he eaten this eight years and more ? Nothing at all. 
But the work he’d done on it ! 

He was busy with his six ounces of bread while 
his whole gang sat there on the same side of the 

Two Estonians, who were like blood brothers, were 
sitting on a low concrete block and smoking half a 
cigarette in turns from the same holder. They were 
both very fair, tall, and thin. Both had long noses 
and big eyes. They stuck together as though they 
couldn’t breathe without each other. The gang boss 
never separated them. They shared all their food 
and slept on the top level of the same bunk. And in 
the column or at roll call or going to bed at night, 
they were always talking to each other in slow, quiet 
voices. But they weren't brothers at all, they’d only 
gotten to know each other here in the gang. One of 
them, they said, had been a fisherman, the other had 
been taken to Sweden by his parents when the Soviets 
came to Estonia and he was still a kid. But after he 
grew up he came back to Estonia of his own accord 
to get a college education. 

Nowadays people say it doesn’t matter where you 
come from and that there are bad people everywhere. 
But of all the Estonians he’d seen, Shukhov had never 
come across a bad one. 

They were still sitting, either on the slabs or on 
the molds or just on the ground. You didn’t feel like 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

talking in the morning, and they were all wrapped 
up in their own thoughts. That scavenger Fetyukov 
had scrounged together quite a pile of cigarette butts 
from somewhere (he would even pick them up out of 
a spittoon without batting an eye), and now he was 
sorting them out on his knees and putting all the 
unburned tobacco in a piece of paper. Fetyukov 
had three children “outside,” but they’d all disowned 
him when he was arrested, and his wife had married 
again. So there was no one to send him things. 

The Captain kept looking at Fetyukov out of the 
corner of his eye, and then he yelled : 

“Hey, what are you collecting all that crap for? 
You’ll get syphilis. Throw it out !” 

The Captain was used to giving orders and he 
always talked to people like this. 

But Fetyukov didn’t have to take orders from the 
Captain. He didn’t get any packages either. So he 
just leered at him in a nasty way — he’d lost some of 
his teeth — and said, “Just wait. Captain, till you’ve 
been here eight years, you’ll be doing the same thing. 
It's happened to better men than you.” 

Fetyukov was judging by himself, but may be the 
Captain wouldn't go down so quickly. 

“What’s that ? What’s that ?” SenkaKlevshinsaid. 
He was rather deaf and couldn’t hear what they were 
saying. He thought they were talking about the 
Captain’s trouble at roll call. “You shouldn’t have 
yelled at them like that.” He shook his head sadly. 
“It would’ve blown over.” 

Senka Klevshin was a quiet fellow and h e ’d had 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

a very hard life. One of his eardrums had burst back 
in forty-one. Then he’d been taken prisoner, but he 
got away. They caught him and stuck him in Buchen- 
wald. In Buchenwald he’d stayed alive by a miracle, 
and now he was here quietly doing his sentence. He 
said if you kicked up a fuss you were finished. 

The only thing for you was to put your back into 
the work — that was for sure. If you tried to fight 
them, they’d break your neck. 

Alyoshka dropped his face into his hands. He was 

Shukhov ate his ration nearly to the end, but he 
saved a bare crust, a round piece from the top, be- 
cause you couldn’t clean out the mush in your bowl 
with a spoon like you could with bread. He wrapped 
up the crust again in the white cloth for the next 
meal, stuck the cloth in the pocket on the inside of 
his jacket, buttoned himself up against the cold, and 
got ready. Let them send him to work now if they 
wanted. But he’d like it better if they waited awhile. 

Gang 38 got up. Some of them went to the cement- 
mixer, some to get water, some to the steel mesh- 

But neither Tyurin nor Pavlo had come back to 
the gang. And though they had been sitting down for 
barely twenty minutes, and the workday — a short 
winter one — went on only till six, they all thought this 
had been wonderful luck, and the evening didn’t 
seem far off now. 

“You know there hasn’t been a blizzard fora long 
time!” the Latvian Kilgas said with a sigh. He had 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

red cheeks and was well fed. “Not one storm all win- 
ter! What kind of a winter is that?” 

“Yes . . . not a single blizzard . . . not a single 
blizzard.” A sigh went through the gang. 

When there was a snowstorm in these parts, they 
didn’t dare take you out of the barracks — let alone to 
work. Without a rope slung between your barracks and 
the mass hall, you could get lost. If a prisoner froze 
to death in the snow, the dogs could eat him for all 
anyone cared. But what if he escaped? It happened 
sometimes. When there was a storm, the snow was 
very, very fine, but in the snowdrifts it got packed 
down. Prisoners had gotten over the wire across 
these snowdrifts and made a run for it. But it’s true 
they didn’t get far. 

Come to think about it, snowstorms weren’t much 
use. They kept the prisoners locked in. The coal was 
late coming in and the warmth was blown out of the 
barracks. They brought no flour into the camp, and 
there was no bread, and things got fouled up in the 
mess hall. And it didn’t matter how long the blizzard 
lasted — a couple of days or a week — they counted 
the days they lost as days off. and the men were 
marched out to work for the same number of Sun- 
days in a row. 

All the same, the men loved storms and prayed 
for them. Any time there was a low wind, everyone 
stared at the sky: “Give us some of the real stuff!” 

Snow, they meant. The thing was that most of the- 
time you only got a little powdered §now, not a real 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Now someone tried to horn in on Gang 38’s stove, 
but they sent him packing. 

Tyurin came in. He looked black. The men saw 
that they’d have to get down to work, and right 

“Now then!” Tyurin looked around. “Are you all 
here, 104?” And not checking or counting — because 
nobody could have gone anywhere — he started giving 
them their working orders in a hurry. He sent the 
two Estonians and Klevshin and Gopchik to get the 
big cement-mixer from nearby and take it to the 
power plant. It was clear from this that the gang was 
being put on the unfinished power plant that they’d 
stopped work on in the autumn. He sent two others 
to the tool shop, where Pavlo was getting the tools. 
He told four others to clear the snow from around 
the plant, by the entrance to the generator room, and 
inside it, and from the ladders. He told another two 
to get the coal stove going there and to pinch some 
boards and chop them up. One man was to take 
cement there on a small sledge. Two were to carry 
water, two had to bring sand, and another had to 
clear the snow off the sand and break it up with a 

After all this, only two of them, Shukhov and 
Kilgas, the best workers in the gang, still hadn’t got- 
ten their orders. The boss called over and said: 
“Now, boys!” (He wasn’t any older than them, but 
had this way of calling people “boys’’). “After the 
meal break, you’ll lay bricks on the second story, 
where Gang 6 left off the job last fall. But now I 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

want you to cover up the windows in the generator 
room. There are three big windows there, and the 
irst thing is to board them up with something. I’ll 
send some others along to help, but start thinking 
what you’re going to do it with. We’ll use the gen- 
erator room for mixing the mortar and warming up. 
If we don’t manage to keep it warm, we’ll freeze like 
stray dogs. Get it?” 

He might have said something else, but Gopchik 
ran up to him — he was a kid of about sixteen with 
rosy cheeks — and complained that another gang 
wouldn’t give them the cement-mixer and were 
fighting over it. So Tyurin went there. 

Never mind how hard it was to begin the work- 
day in such freezing cold, the thing was to get over 
the beginning— that was the important part. 

Shukhov and Kilgas glanced at each other. They’d 
•ften worked together and they looked up to each 
other because they were both skilled men. Shukhov 
was a carpenter and Kilgas a bricklayer. It wasn’t 
easy to find anything in the snow to board up those 
windows with. But Kilgas said: 

“Ivan! I know a spot near those prefabs where 
there's a big roll of roofing-felt. Hid it there myself. 
Let’s go.” 

Kilgas was a Latvian but spoke Russian like a 
Russian. There was a village of Old Believers* near 
where he came from, and he learned it when he was 
small. He’d been in the camps only two years, but 
he knew his way around and he also knew that if 
you didn’t help yourself, nobody else would. Kilgas 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

and Shukhov had the same name and they called 
-each other Ivan. 

They decided to get the roofing-felt. But first 
Shukhov ran off to get his trowel from the half- 
finished repair shops. A trowel is a great help to a 
bricklayer when it’s light and fits his hand. But on 
every working site it’s a rule that at night you hand 
in all the tools they gave you in the morning. And 
it’s a matter of luck what tool you get next day. But 
Shukhov had once managed to pull a fast one on the 
fellow in the tool shop and kept the best trowel for 
himself. Now he hid it in a different place every 
night and got it in the mornings if he was going to 
do any bricklaying. Of course, if they’d sent Gang 
104 to the Socialist Community Development today, 
he wouldn’t have been able to get it. But now he 
rolled away a small stone and stuck his fingers in a 
crack. There it was ! He pulled it out. 

Shukhov and Kilgas left the repair shops and 
went over to the prefabs. There was a cloud of steam 
from their breath. The sun had already come up, but 
there was a mist and they couldn’t see the rays. They 
thought they saw something that looked like posts 
sticking out all around the sun. 

“There are posts over there,” Shukhov said, and 
jerked his head. 

“We don’t mind posts,” said Kilgas, and he 
laughed. “As long as they don’t stretch barbed wire 
.over them, that’s the thing to look out for.” 

Kilgas couldn’t say a word without making a joke. 
The whole gang liked him for this. And the way all 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

the Latvians in the camp looked up to him ! But of 
course Kilgas ate pretty good with his two packages 
a month. He looked kind of healthy, just like he 
wasn’t in a camp at all. It was easy for him to make 

This site of theirs was really big. It took quite a 
while to get across it. On their way, they ran into 
some of the boys from Gang 82 who’d been put on 
digging up holes again. They didn’t want very big 
holes — only a few feet deep. But the ground here 
was like stone even in summer, and now it was frozen 
stiff and it was impossible to dig. Hit it with a pick 
and it just skidded off. All you got was sparks, no 
earth at all. The fellows stood there by their holes 
and just looked around. There was nowhere to get 
warm and they couldn’t leave. So they went at it 
again with their picks. That was the only way to 
keep warm. 

Shukhov saw someone he knew among them — a 
fellow from Vyatka— and gave him a piece of ad vice. 
“Listen, fellows. Why don’t you start afire over these 
holes to thaw out the ground ?’’ 

“They won’t let us.” The man from Vyatka 
sighed. “They won't give us any wood.” 

“You should find some.” 

But Kilgas just spat : “Now tell me, Ivan, if our 
bosses had any sense, would they send people out to 
hack the ground with picks in cold weather like this?” 
He swore under his breath a couple of times and said 
nothing more. You couldn’t talk much in this sort 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

of cold. They went on till they came to the place- 
where the prefab panels were buried under the snow. 

Shukhov liked working with Kilgas. The only bad 
thing about him was that he didn’t smoke and he 
never got any tobacco in his packages. 

Kilgas really kept his eyes open. They picked up 
a board and then another, and there was the roll of 

They took it out. But how could they carry it? 
It didn’t matter about being seen from a watchtower. 
The guards only worried about people running away. 
That was their only concern. But inside you could 
chop up all the panels for firewood for all they cared. 
And if a camp warder ran into you, that didn’t 
matter either. They were always on the lookout them- 
selves for something that might come in handy. And 
the men couldn’t care less either, nor could the gang 
bosses. The only people who worried were the chief 
work-supervisor, who wasn’t a prisoner, and Der, the 
foreman, who was, and that beanpole Shkuropatenko. 
Shkuropatenko was no one in particular, just an 
ordinary prisoner, but he was paid for guarding the 
prefabs and stopping the prisoners from pinching them. 
It was this Shkuropatenko who was most likely to 
catch them. 

“Look, Ivan, we can’t carry it lengthways.” 
Shukhov said. “Let’s carry it upright with our arms 
around it and take it slow. We’ll screen it with our 
bodies, and he won’t see what we’ve got.” 

This was a good idea of Shukhov’s. The roll was 
clumsy to carry, so they didn’t pick it up but squeez- 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

«d it between themselves like a third man and started 
off. All you could see from the side was two men 
walking close together. 

“If the work-supervisor secs this on the windows 
later on, he’ll guess what happened anyway,” Shukhov 

“What’s that got to do with us ?” Kilgas asked. 
“Wc can say it was already there when we came to 
the power plant. They’re not going to tell us to pull 
it down.” 

That was true enough. 

His fingers were numb in his mittens. He couldn’t 
feel them at all. And the cold had gotten into his 
left boot. Your boots were the main thing. His 
hands would warm up at work. 

They walked over the untouched snow and came 
out on a sledge track that ran from the tool shop to 
the power plant. This meant they must have taken 
the cement there already. 

The power plant was on a rise and it was right at 
the edge of the compound. No one had been in the 
power plant for a long time, and the snow all around 
it was unmarked. So the sledge track, the new path, 
and the deep footprints stood out more clearly and 
showed the men had gone that way. And they were 
already clearing snow with wooden shovels near the 
power plant and clearing a path for a truck. 

It would be good if the hoist was working. But 
the motor had burned out and it looked like it hadn’t 
been fixed. Which meant they’d once more have to 
carry everything up to the second story themselves — 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

the mortar and the bricks. 

The power plant had been there for two months, 
like a gray skeleton in the snow. But now Gang 104 
had come. And what kept them going? Their empty 
bellies were held in by rope belts. The cold was 
fierce. There was no shelter and no fire. But they’d 
come and so life began again. 

The cement-mixer was right there by the entrance 
to the generator room, but it had come apart. It was 
really rickety and Shukhov didn’t think they'd get 
it there in one piece. The gang boss swore just for 
the hell of it, but he saw that nobody was to blame. 
Then Kilgas and Shukhov came up, carrying the 
roofing-felt between them. The gang boss was pleased 
and decided on a switch of jobs. He told Shukhov 
to fix the flue on the stove so they’d get it going as 
fast as possible. And Kilgas was told to patch up 
the mixer, with the two Estonians helping him. He 
gave Senka Klevshin an ax to cut laths to nail the 
felt on, because it wasn’t the right width for the 
windows. Where could they get the wood ? The 
work-supervisor sure wouldn’t give them any just to 
make a shelter. The boss looked around and so did 
the others. All they could do was take the boards 
used a hand-rails for the ladders up to the second 
story. They’d just have to go up carefully if they 
didn’t want to break their necks. There was no 
other way. 

You might well ask why a prisoner worked so 
hard for ten years in a camp. Why didn’t they say 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

to hell with it and drag their feet all day long till the 
night, which was theirs? 

But it wasn’t so simple. That’s why they’d 
dreamed up these gangs. It wasn’t like gangs “out- 
side,” where every fellow got paid separately. In the 
camps they had these gangs to make the prisoners 
keep each other on their toes. So the fellows at the 
top didn’t have to worry. It was like this— either you 
all got something extra or you all starved. (“You’re 
not pulling your weight, you swine, and I’ve got to 
go hungry because of you. So work, you bastard !”) 

So when a really tough job came along, like now, 
you couldn’t sit on your hands. Like it or not, you 
had to get a move on. Either they made the place 
warm within two hours or they’d all be fucking well 

Pavlo’d come with the tools already. All they 
had to do was pick out what they needed. And he 
also brought some pipes. True, there was nothing to 
fit ’em with, but there was a hammer and a small 
hatchet. They’d do it somehow. 

Shukhov clapped his mittens together, placed the 
pipes end to end, and started fixing them up, dove- 
tailing the joints. He’d hidden his trowel nearby. 
They were all friends in the gang, but that wouldn’t 
stop one of them from working a switch. He 
wouldn’t even put it past Kilgas. 

The only thought in his head now — and his only 
worry — was how to fix the flues so they wouldn’t 
smoke. He sent Gopchik to fasten the pipe at the 
window where it went out. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

There was another potbellied stove in the corner 
■with a brick flue. There was a red-hot iron plate on 
top of it to thaw out the sand and dry it. So they’d 
already got that one going, and the Captain and 
Fetyukov were carrying sand there in hods. You 
•didn’t need any brains to carry a hod. That was why 
Tyurin gave this work to people who used to run 
things before they got to the camp. Fetyukov was 
once some kind of a big shot in an office. He used to 
ride around in a car. 

In the beginning Fetyukov tried to bully the 
Captain. But the Captain hit him in the teeth a 
couple of times, so they called it off. 

The boys tried to get near the stove with the sand 
to warm up, but Tyurin stopped them. “Get on with 
the job first or I’ll warm your asses for you !” he 

Beat a dog once and you only have to show him 
the whip. The cold was vicious, but it had nothing 
on the gang boss. They all went back to work. 

Shukhov heard Tyurin say in Pavlo’s ear : “You 
stay here and keep ’em at it. I’ve got to go and fix 
the work rates.” 

More depends on the work rates than on the work 
itself. A clever boss who knows his business really 
sweets over these work rates. That’s where the ration 
comes from. If a job hadn’t been done, make it look 
like it had. If the rates were low on a job, try to hike 
’em up. You had to have brains for this and a lot 
of pull with the fellows who kept the work sheets. 
And they didn’t do it for nothing. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

But come to think of it, who were these rates for T 
For the people who ran the camps. They made 
thousands on the deal and got bonuses on top for the 
officers. Like old Volkovoy, with that whip of his. 
And all you got out of it was six ounces of bread in 
the evening. Your life depended on them. 

They brought two buckets of water, but it froze 
on the way over. Pavlo figured there was no point in 
carrying it. They could get it quicker by melting 
snow on the spot. They put the buckets on the stove. 

Gopchik brought along some new aluminium wire, 
the kind electricians used. 

He said : “Ivan Denisovich! This is good wire for 
spoons. Will you teach me how to make a spoon ?” 

Ivan Denisovich liked this little rascal Gopchik 
(his own son had died young, and he had two grown- 
up daughters at home). Gopchik had been arrested 
for taking milk to Bendra partisans* in the woods. 
They gave him the same sentence a grownup got. He 
was friendly, like a little calf, and tried to please 
everybody. But he could be sly too. He ate the stuff 
in the packages he got, all by himself, at night. But 
come to think of it, why should he feed everybody ? 

They broke off some wire to make spoons and hid 
it in a corner. Shukhov made a sort of stepladder out 
of two planks and sent Gopchik to fix the chimney. 
Gopchik ran up the ladder like a squirrel. He 
banged in a nail, threw the wire over it, and fixed it 
around the pipe. Then Shukhov got busy and put 
another piece of pipe on top where the flue came out. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

There was no wind today, but there might be to- 
morrow, and this was to stop the smoke from 
blowing back. This stove was for them, you' see. 

Senka Klevshin had already made some long laths. 
They told Gopchik to nail them on. He climbed up 
the windows, the little rascal, and shouted down. 

The sun was higher now, the haze had gone, and 
there was no sign of those funny posts any more. And 
it was all crimson. They put the stolen wood in the 
stove and lit it. It was much more cheerful like that. 

“Its only cows who get warm from the sun in 
January,” Shukhov said. 

Kilgas finished hammering the cement -mixer 
together, gave it a last tap, and shouted : “Listen, 
Pavlo, this job’ll cost the boss a hundred rubles. I 
won’t take less !” 

Pavlo laughed. “You’ll be lucky if you get a little 
extra on your ration.” 

“You’ll get your bonus from the judge,” Gopchik 
shouted down. 

“Hold it, hold it,” Shukhov yelled. (They were 
cutting the roofing-felt the wrong way). 

He showed them how to do it. 

Some of the men were crowding around the other 
stove and Pavlo chased them away. He gave Kilgas 
some helpers, and told him to make hods for carrying 
the mortar up. He . put two more men on to carry 
sand. He sent someone else up to clear the snow off 
the scaffold and the walls. And he got another man 
to shovel hot sand from the stove into the mixer. 

They heard a motor outside. A truck with bricks 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

was coming through. Pavlo ran out and waved his 
hands to show them where to unload. 

Thex nailed on one strip of the felt and then an- 
other. But what protection do you get from roofing- 
felt? It’s nothing but paper, really. All the same, it 
made a kind of solid wall. And it was darker inside, 
so the stove looked brighter. 

Alyoshka brought some coal. Somebody shouted, 
“Pile it on !” Someone else yelled, “Don't, we’ll get 
warmer from the wood !” He didn’t know what to do, 
he just stood there. 

Fetyukov squatted down by the stove, and put his 
felt boots right up to the fire, the dope. The Captain 
pulled him up by the scruff of the neck and pushed 
him over to the hods. “Go and carry sand, you bas- 
tard !” 

To the Captain, camp work was like the navy. (“If 
you're told to do something, then get down to it !”) 
He’d gotten pretty thin in the last month, but he was 
still doing his best. 

Before long, all three windows were covered with 
felt. Now the only light came from the door. And 
the cold came in with it. Pavlo told them to cover the 
top part of the door and leave the bottom part open, 
just enough to get in and out with your head down. 
They did it. 

Meantime three dump trucks had brought the 
bricks. Now the thing was how they could get them 
up to the top without a hoist. 

“Hey, you bricklayers ! Let’s go up and take a 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 
look,” Pavlo called. 

Bricklaying was a job you could take pride in. 
Shukhov and Kilgas went up with PavIo.^The ladder 
was pretty narrow and Senka had taken away the 
handrails for firewood, so you had to stick close to 
the wall if you didn’t want to fall off. And another 
thing was the snow had frozen to the rungs and made 
them slippery, so you couldn’t get a grip with your 
feet. How the hell could they carry the mortar up ? 

They looked to see where to start laying. The fel- 
lows up there were shoveling away the snow already. 
They’d start over here. They’d have to hack the ice 
off the bricks and then scrape them clean. 

They figured out how they’d get the bricks up. 
It’d be best if they didn’t carry them up the ladder 
but had four fellows down below throw them to the 
first scaffold, then another two throw them up from 
there to the second story. And then there’d be two 
more fellows up here to carry them over to the walls. 
That’d be the quickest way. 

There wasn't much of a wind up here, but you 
could still feel it. Enough to go right through you 
when you were working. But if you ducked down 
behind the wall it was a lot warmer. 

Shukhov looked up to the sky and gasped. It was 
clear, and by the sun it was almost noon. It was a 
funny thing how time flew when you were working! 
He was always struck by how fast the days went in 
camp — you didn’t have time to turn around. But the 
end of your sentence never seemed to be any closer. 

They came down again and found everybody 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

huddled around the stove, except the Captain and 
Fetyukov were carrying sand. Pavlo got mad and 
chased out eight of the fellows to get bricks, and told 
two of them to put dry cement and sand in the mixer. 
And he sent two others for water and coal. 

Kilgas said to the fellows working with him: 
“Come on, let’s finish these hods.” 

“Maybe I can give them a hand,” Shukhov said 
to Pavlo. 

“Okay,” Pavlo nodded. 

Then they brought in a can to melt snow for the 
mortar. They heard somebody say it was twelve 
o’clock already. 

“It must be,” Shukhov said. “The sun’s right 

“If it’s right overhead,” the Captain shot back, 
“that means it’s one o’clock, not twelve.” 

“How come?” Shukhov asked. “Any old man can 
tell you the sun is highest at noon.” 

“That’s what the old guys say !” the Captain 
snapped. “But since then, there’s been a law passed 
and now the sun’s highest at one.” 

“Who passed the law ?” 

“The Soviet Government !” 

The Captain went out with the hods. But Shukhov 
wouldn’t have gone on arguing anyway. Did the sun 
come under their laws too ? 

With a little more banging and hammering, they 
put together four hods. 

“Okay, let’s sit down and warm up,” Pavlo said 
to the two bricklayers. “Senka, you’ll be laying bricks 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

after the meal break too. So sit down and get warm.” 

This time they had every right to sit down at the 
stove. They couldn’t start the job before lunchtime 
anyhow, and if they started mixing the mortar too 
soon it’d freeze. 

The coal in the stove was really going now and 
giving out a steady heat. But it only hit you near the 
stove — the rest of the shed was cold as ever. 

All four of them took off their mittens and held 
their hands over the stove. 

One thing you had to know was never to put your 
feet near the stove with your boots on. If they were 
regular boots, the leather cracked. And if they were 
felt, they got damp and steamed, and your feet didn’t 
get any warmer. And if you put them right up to the 
fire, they got burned. Then you had to go along till 
spring with a hole in them. There weren’t any more 
where they came from. 

“Why should Shukhov worry?” Kilgas was kidding 
him. “He’s got one foot out of here already.” 

“Yeah, the one without the boot,” someone 
butted in. They laughed. (Shukhov had taken off his 
left boot — the one with the hole in it— and was 
warming his foot-cloths.) 

“Shukhov’s sentence is almost up.” 

They’d given Kilgas twenty-five years. In the good 
old days it was always ten. But in 1949 they started 
slapping on twenty-five, regardless. Maybe you could 
last ten years and still come out of it alive, but how 
the hell could you get through twenty-five? 

Shukhov sort of liked the way they pointed at him 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

— the lucky guy nearly through with his sentence. But 
he didn’t really believe it. Take the fellows who 
should’ve been let out in the war. They were all kept 
in till forty-six — ‘till further notice.” And then those 
with three years who’d gotten five more slapped on. 
They twisted the law any way they wanted. You 
finished a ten-year stretch and they gave you another 
®ne. Or if not, they still wouldn’t let you go home. 

But sometimes you got a kind of funny feeling 
inside. Maybe your number really would come up 
one day. God, just to think you might walk out and 
go home ! 

But old camp hands never said anything like that 
out loud. Shukhov said to Kilgas: “Don’t start count- 
ing up all the years you’ve got to go. Whether you’ll 
be here for the whole twenty-five years or not is any- 
body's guess. All I know is I've done eight of mine, 
that’s for sure.” 

So you just went on living like this, with your eyes 
•n the ground, and you had no time to think about 
how you got in and when you’d get out. 

In his record it said Shukhov was in for treason. 
And it’s true he gave evidence against himself and 
said he’d surrendered to the enemy with the inten- 
tion of betraying his country, and come back with 
instructions from the Germans. But just what he was 
supposed to do for the Germans neither Shukhov 
aor the interrogator could say. So they just left it at 
that and put down: “On instructions from the 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

The way Shukhov figured, it was very simple. If 
he didn’t sign, he was as good as buried. But if he 
did, he’d still go on living a while So he signed. 

It happened like this. In February of forty-two 
his whole army was cut off on the Northwestern 
Front. They didn’t send any food by air — there just 
weren't any planes. Then things got so bad they cut 
the hoofs off dead horses, soaked them in water to 
soften them up a little, and ate them. And they didn’t 
have any ammo. The Germans tracked them down 
in the woods and rounded them up. Shukhov spent 
a couple of days in a POW cage in the forest. Then 
he got away with four others. They made their way 
through the forest and the bogs and got back to their 
©wn lines. And when they got there, a machine gun- 
ner opened fire. Two of them were killed on the spot 
and another died from his wounds. So only two of 
them made it. If they’d had any sense, they’d have 
said they got lost wandering in the woods— then 
nothing would have happened to them. But they told 
the truth and said they’d gotten away from the 
Germans. (“From the Germans, eh, you mother- 
fuckers!”) If all five of them had made it, maybe 
they’d have checked their story and believed it. But 
just the two of them didn’t have a chance. It was 
quite clear, they said, that they’d fixed up their escape 
with the Germans, the bastards. 

Deaf as he was, Senka Klevshin could hear what 
they were talking about and said in a loud voice : 
“I got away three times and they caught me every 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 


Senka had really been through the mill Most of 
the time he didn’t talk. He couldn’t hear what people 
said and usually kept his mouth shut.. So they didn’t 
know much about him. All they knew was he'd been 
in Buchenwald and was in the camp underground 
there. He’d smuggled arms in for an uprising. Then 
the Germans hung him up with his arms tied behind 
his back and beat him 

“But what kind of camps were you in for those 
eight years, Ivan ?” Kilgas asked. “Most of the time 
you’ve been in those ordinary camps with women, 
where they don’t make you wear numbers. But eight 
years in a penal camp is a different story ! Nobody’s 
ever come out of this alive.” 

“We didn’t have any women. All I ever saw was 

He started into the fire and remembered his seven 
years in the North. The way he’d hauled logs for 
three years to make crates and railroad ties. The 
campfire used to flicker just like this in the lumber 
camp — when they had to work at night, that is. The 
Commandant's rule was — any gang that didn’t do 
its quota in the daytime was kept on the job at night. 
They used to get back to camp after midnight and go 
out again in the morning. 

“Don’t kid yourself, fellows, it’s easier here,” he 
said in his funny way (he had that gap in his teeth). 
“Here you knock off the same time every day. Quota 
or no quota, they march you back to the camp. And 
the basic ration is six ounces more. You can live. So 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

what if it is a ‘Special’ camp? Do the numbers bother 
you or something? They don’t weigh anything.” 

“The hell it’s easier !” Fetyukov hissed. (It was 
getting close to the meal break and they were all 
drawn up around the stove.) “They slit your throat 
here while you’re in bed ! You call that easy ?” 

“That happens only to squealers, not human 
beings !” Pavlo put a finger up, like he was warning 

It was true enough. This was a new thing in the 
camp. Two stool pigeons had their throats slit right 
in their bunks after reveille. And then they killed a 
guy who was really straight. They must’ve gotten him 
mixed up with somebody else. And one of the 
squealers beat it to the punishment block, and got 
them to hide him there. It was a funny business, this. 
It never happened in the ordinary camps. And it was 
something new here too. 

The whistle on the steam engine went off. It 
didn’t go off full blast right away, but sounded kind 
of hoarse at first, like it was clearing its throat. 

They’d gotten through half a day. It was meal- 

Hell, they’d been slow ! They should’ve gone to the 
mess hall long ago to get in line. There were eleven 
gangs on the site, but the mess hall wouldn’t hold 
more than two at a time. 

Tyurin hadn’t come back yet. Pavlo gave a quick 
look around and said : “Shukhov and Gopchik, you 
come with me. Kilgas, when Gopchik gets back to 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 


Senka had really been through the mill Most of 
the time he didn’t talk. He couldn’t hear what people 
said and usually kept his mouth shut. So they didn’t 
know much about him. All they knew was he’d been 
in Buchenwald and was in the camp underground 
there. He’d smuggled arms in for an uprising. Then 
the Germans hung him up with his arms tied behind 
his back and beat him 

“But what kind of camps were you in for those 
eight years, Ivan?” Kilgas asked. “Most of the time 
you’ve been in those ordinary camps with women, 
where they don’t make you wear numbers. But eight 
years in a penal camp is a different story ! Nobody’s 
ever come out of this alive.” 

“We didn’t have any women. All I ever saw was 

He started into the fire and remembered his seven 
years in the North. The way he’d hauled logs for 
three years to make crates and railroad ties. The 
campfire used to flicker just ,like this in the lumber 
camp— when they had to work at night, that is. The 
Commandant’s rule was— any gang that didn’t do 
its quota in the daytime was kept on the job at night. 
They used to get back to camp after midnight and go 
out again in the morning. 

“Don’t kid yourself, fellows, it’s easier here,” he 
said in his funny way (he had that gap in his teeth). 
“Here you knock off the same time every day. Quota, 
or no quota, they march you back to the camp. And 
the basic ration is six ounces more. You can live. So 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

what if it is a ‘Special’ camp ? Do the numbers bother 
you or something ? They don’t weigh anything.” 

“The hell it’s easier !” Fetyukov hissed. (It was 
getting close to the meal break and they were all 
drawn up around the stove.) “They slit your throat 
here while you’re in bed ! You call that easy?” 

“That happens only to squealers, not human 
beings !” Pavlo put a finger up, like he was warning 

It was true enough. This was a new thing in the 
camp. Two stool pigeons had their throats slit right 
in their bunks after reveille. And then they killed a 
guy who was really straight. They must’ve gotten him 
mixed up with somebody else. And one of the 
squealers beat it to the punishment block, and got 
them to hide him there. It was a funny business, this. 
It never happened in the ordinary camps. And it was- 
something new here too. 

The whistle on the steam engine went off. It 
didn’t go off full blast right away, but sounded kind 
of hoarse at first, like it was clearing its throat. 

They’d gotten through half a day. It was meal- 

Hell, they’d been slow ! They should’ve gone to the 
mess hall long ago to get in line. There were eleven 
gangs on the site, but the mess hall wouldn’t hold 
more than two at a time. 

Tyurin hadn’t come back yet. Pavlo gave a quick 
look around and said : “Shukhov and Gopchik, you 
come with me. Kilgas, when Gopchik gets back to- 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

you, send the gang along at once !” Other 'fellows 
moved into their places by the stove right away. It 
could have been a woman the way they cuddled up 
to it. 

“Snap out of it !” somebody shouted. “Let’s have 
a smoke !” 

They looked at each other to see who’d light up. 
But nobody did. Either they didn’t have any tobacco 
®r if they did they weren’t letting anybody know. 

Shukfaov went out with Pavlo, and Gopchik 
trotted after them. 

“It’s a little warmer,” Shukhov said when they 
got outside. “About one degree below, no more. 
Good weather for bricklaying.” 

They turned around and looked at the bricks. A 
lot had already been thrown up to the scaffold, and 
some were already on the floor of the second story. 

Shukhov squinted up at the sun to check what 
the Captain had said about that law. 

Out here in the open where there was nothing to 
stop it, the wind was blowing quite hard and bit your 
face, to let you know it was still January. 

The mess hall on the working site was just a 
wooden shack with a stove in the middle. They’d 
nailed rusty metal sheets over it to cover the cracks. 
Inside it was split up into a kitchen and an eating 
room. There were no floors in either part. The earth 
had been trampled down by people’s feet and was 
full of pits and bumps. And what they called the 
kitchen had just a square stove with a caldron. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

The kitchen was run by two people — the cook 
and a sanitary inspector. When they left in the 
morning, the cook got an issue of groats from the big 
kitchen in the camp. It worked out to about two 
ounces a head — about two pounds for each gang. That 
is, a little over twenty pounds for everybody working 
on the site. The cook didn’t carry that stuff himself 
on the two-mile march from the camp. He had a 
trusty who carried it for him. He thought it was 
better to slip an extra portion of the stuff to a trusty 
at the expense of the prisoners’ bellies rather than 
break his own back. Then there was water and fire- 
wood to carry and the stove to light. The cook didn’t 
do that either. He had other prisoners and “goners”* 
to do it. And they got their cut too. It’s easy to give 
away things that don’t belong to you. 

The rule was you had to eat inside the mess hall. 
So they had to bring bowls from the camp every 
day. (They couldn’t leave them on the site overnight 
because they’d be pinched by “free” workers.) So 
they brought about fifty of them over and washed 
them for each new batch that came in to eat. (And 
the man who carried the bowls got his cut.) 

To stop people taking the bowls out of the mess 
hall, they put another trusty at the door. But they 
could watch as much as they liked, people took them 
out all the same. They talked their way past the 
trusty or slipped by while he was’t looking. So on 
top of all this, they had another fellow who had to 
wander around the site and pick up dirty bowls and 
take them back to the kitchen. Both these got their 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

cut too. 

All the cook did was put groats and salt in the 
caldron, and if there was any fat he split it between 
the caldron and himself. (The good fat never got as 
far as the prisoners. Only the bad stuff went in the 
caldron. So what did they care if the fat the stores 
handed out was no good !) Then his only job was to 
stir the mush when it was nearly ready. The sanitary 
inspector didn’t even do that much. He just sat and 
watched. When the mush was ready, the cook gave 
him some right away and he could eat all he wanted. 
And so could the cook Then one of the gang 
bosses — they took turns, a different one every day — 
came to taste it and see if it was good enough for 
the men to eat. He got a double portion too. 

After all this, the whistle went off. Now the other 
gang bosses came and the cook handed them their 
bowls through a kind of hatch in the wall. The bowk 
had this watery mush in them. And you didn't ask 
how much of the ration they’d really put in it. 
You’d get hell if you opened your mouth. 

The wind was whistling over the plain. It was hot 
and dry in summer and freezing cold in winter. 
Nothing would ever grow on that plain, even without 
the barbed wire. The only grain they knew about 
grew in the place where they handed out the bread 
ration, and oats ripened only in the camp stores. And 
you could kill yourself with work here or you could 
lay down and die, but you’d never beat any more 
food out of this earth than what the Commandant 
handed over. And you didn’t get that in full either. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

what with the cooks and all their pals. They stole all 
the way down the line — out here on the site, in the 
camp, and in the stores too. And you never saw these 
thieves doing any hard work. But it was you who 
sweated, and you took what they gave you and didn’t 
hang around the hatch. 

It was every man for himself. 

Pavlo, Shukhov, and Gopchik went into the mess 
hall. The men were standing jammed up against each 
other — so many backs you couldn’t even see the low 
tables or the benches. Some were eating sitting down, 
and others on their feet. Gang 82, who’d been dig- 
ging holes in the open the whole morning, came in 
first after the whistle and grabbed all the seats. Even 
if they’d finished eating, they still hung around. 
Where else could they get a little warmth ? The others 
were swearing at them. But you might just as well 
swear at a brick wall. What did they care ? It was 
better here than out in the cold. 

Pavlo and Shukhov pushed their way through. 
They’d come at a good time. One gang was getting 
its stuff, another was waiting in line, and the assistant 
gang bosses were standing by the hatch too. This,* 
meant 104 was next in line. d 

“Bowls ! Bowls 1” the cook shouted through thl| 
batch, and people were shoving them at him from 
the other side. Shukhov got some bowls too and 
shoved them through the hatch, not to get anything 
extra for himself but to speed things up. Some of 
the cook’s pals were washing bowls in the kitchen. 
And they weren’t doing it for nothing. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

The assistant gang boss in front of Pavlo was 
getting the stuff for his men, and Pavlo shouted back 
over people’s heads : “Gopchik !” 

“I’m here,” Gopchik answered from the door. He 
had a squeaky little voice like a young goat. 

“Call the gang !” 

Gopchik ran off. 

The mush they were giving out today wasn’t bad. 
It was the best kind, made of oats. It didn’t come 
very often. It was usually magara twice a day, or 
flour mixed with water. These oats were more filling, 
and that’s what counted. 

The amount of oats Shukhov fed to horses when 
he was a boy, and he never thought he’d long for a 
handful himself one day ! 

“Bowls ! Bowls !” they were shouting from the 

Gang 104’s turn was coming. The assistant gang 
boss in front took his special double portion and 
cleared out. 

This came out of their bellies too. And again 
nobody said a thing. Every gang boss had the right 
to a double portion, and he could eat it himself or 
give it to his assistant. Tyurin gave his to Pavlo. 

Now Shukhov squeezed through to one of the 
tables, chased away a couple of “goners,” asked 
another prisoner to have a heart and go away, and 
cleared enough room at the table for twenty bowls. 
(First he’d put twelve close together, then another 
six on top of them, and another two on top of those.) 
Next he had to take the bowls from Pavlo, count 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

them over and make sure nobody swiped one from 
the table. Or knocked one off with his elbow. And 
on both sides men were getting up from the bench or 
sitting down to eat. He had to keep an eye on them 
to be sure they were eating their own stuff and not 
what belonged to his gang. 

“Two ! Four ! Six !” the cook counted on the 
other side of the hatch. He gave out two at a time. 
It was easier not to lose count that way. 

“Two, four, six,” Pavlo said after him into the 
hatch. And he passed them over to Shukhov two by 
two, and Shukhov put them on the table. Shukhov 
didn’t count out loud, but he kept a closer check 
than anybody. 

“Eight, ten.” 

Why wasn’t Gopchik there with the gang yet ? 

“Twelve, fourteen.” 

Then they ran out of bowls in the kitchen. Over 
Pavlo’s head and shoulders, Shukhov could see the 
cook put two bowls down on the edge and stop with 
his hands still on them, like he was thinking about 
something. He must have turned around to bawl 
out the dishwashers. Just then a pile of empty bowls 
was shoved at him through the hatch. He let go of 
the two bowls and passed the empty ones back. 

Shukhov took his eyes off the pile of bowls he 
had on the table, turned around and threw one leg 
over the bench, grabbed both the bowls and said, 
“Fourteen,” but not loud. This was meant for Pavlo 
and not for the cook. 

“Hey ! Where’re you going with those?” the cook 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 


“They're ours ! They’re ours !” Pavlo shouted 

“They may be yours, but don’t make me lose 
count !’’ 

“Well, it was fourteen,” Pavlo said, and shrugged 
his shoulder. He wouldn’t have gone in for this kind 
of thing on his own because he had his position to 
think of. But he went along with Shukhov, and he 
could always get out of it by saying it wasn’t his 

“I already said fourteen,” the cook yelled like 

“Sure you did, but you didn’t give them out, you 
had your hands on them !” Shukhov shouted. “Come 
over here and count ’em if you don’t believe me. 
They’re all over here on the table !” 

While he was shouting like this at the cook, 
Shukhov saw the two Estonians coming through the 
crowd and he slipped the two extra bowls to them. 
Then he turned back to the table again and counted 
up to see if all the bowls were still there. But his 
neighbours had been slow, they hadn’t pinched any- 
thing, though they easily could have. 

The cook stuck his ugly red puss through) the 

“Where are they ?” He was getting nasty., 

“Take a look. You’re welcome!” Shukhov 
shouted. “Get out of the way! Don’t; block his 
view !” He gave somebody a shove. “Here’s two !” 
He held up the two bowls from the top. “And here’s 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

the other twelve by rows of four. Count’em !” 

“Where’s your gang?” The cook took a sharp 
look at him through the little space in the hatch. The 
reason it was narrow was to stop anybody from look- 
ing in to see how much was left in the caldron. 

“They’re not here yet,” Pavlo said and shook his 

“What the fucking hell do you mean taking bowls 
before your gang comes ?” He was mad. 

“Here they are now,” Shukhov shouted. 

They could all hear the Captain yelling in the 
doorway like he was still on the bridge of his ship : 
“What’s everybody hanging around for? You’ve had 
your meal, so get out! Give somebody else a chance !” 

The cook grumbled something, straightened up, 
and now all you could see was his hands in the hatch 

“Sixteen, eighteen.” 

Then he ladled out the last one, a double helping. 
“Twenty-three. That’s it ! Next !” 

The other fellows in the gang pushed through 
and Pavlo handed their bowls to them. Some went 
over to another table, and he had to pass the bowls 
over people’s heads. 

In summer they sat five men to a bench. But 
now, in winter, their clothes were so bulky, they 
t»arely managed four. Even, so, they didn’t have 
much elbow room for their spoons. 

Figuring he had a claim on one of the bowls he’d 
finagled, Shtikhov started eating his own portion 
fast. He lifted his right leg, pulled the spoon marked 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

“Ust-Izhma, 1944” from the top of his boot, took 
off his cap, tucked it under his left arm, and stirred 
his mush. 

Now he had to give all his time to eating. He 
had to scrape the stuff out from the bottom, put it 
carefully in his mouth, and roll it around with his 
tongue. But he must hurry so Pavlo would see he’d 
finished and give him a second bowl. And now 
Fetyukov, who’d come in with the Estonians and 
seen the business with the two extra bowls, stood 
right across from Pavlo and ate standing up. He 
kept looking over at them. He was trying to make 
Pavlo see he ought to get at least half a helping 
more, if not a full one. 

But Pavlo he was a young, dark fellow just 
went on eating, and you couldn't tell from his face if 
he could see the people next to him or not, and if he 
remembered about the two extra bowls. 

Shukhov finished the first bowl. Maybe it was be- 
cause he’d set his mind on two helpings, but this first 
one just didn’t fill him the way oatmeal always did. 
He reached into his inside pocket, took the round 
piece of crust out of the white cloth, and started 
mopping up all the bits of oatmeal still sticking to 
the bottom and sides of the bowl. When he’d gotten 
enough of it together, he licked it all off and then 
started over again. When he was through, the bowl 
was clean like it had been washed, except it wasn’t 
so shiny. He handed the bowl over his shoulder to 
one of the dishwashers and went on sitting there for 
a minute with his cap still off. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Though it was Shukhov who’d finagled the bowls, 
it was Pavlo who doled them out. 

Pavlo kept him dangling a little longer, till he’d 
finished eating. Pavlo didn’t lick his bowl, only the 
spoon. Then he put it away and crossed himself. 
Then he touched the two extra bowls -there were so 
many others on the table, he couldn’t shove them 
across — sort of telling Shukhov they were his. 

“Ivan Denisovich, take one for yourself. And take 
the other over to Caesar.” 

Shukhov rembered they had to take one bowl to 
Caesar in the office. (Caesar thought it was beneath 
him to go to the mess hall, either here or in the camp.) 
He hadn’t forgotten that, but when Pavlo touched 
the two bowls his heart missed a beat. Maybe Pavlo 
was going to let him have both. But now he came 
down to earth again. 

So he bent down over this windfall that was now 
his by right and took his time over it, and he didn’t 
even feel it when fellows from the new gang coming 
in pushed him. The only thing that worried him was 
that Fetyukov might get an extra helping. You 
couldn’t beat Fetyukov when it come to scrounging, 
though he didn’t have the guts to pinch anything. 

The Captain was sitting near them. He’d finished 
his mush some time ago and didn’t know the gang 
had gotten any extras. And he didn’t keep looking 
around to see what Pavlo still had there. He was 
feeling nice and warm here and didn’t have the strength 
to get up and go out again in the freezing cold or 
back to that power plant where there was no warmth 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

at all. And now he was taking up space somebody 
else could use from the new gang coming in — just like 
the people he’d tried to chase out only five minutes 
ago when he shouted at them. He hadn’t been in the 
camp very long. It was moments like this (though he 
didn’t know it) that were important for him. This was 
the sort of thing that was changing him from a bossy, 
loudmouth naval officer into a slow-moving and 
cagey prisoner. He’d have to be like this if he wanted 
to get through his twenty-five years in camp. 

People were already shouting at him and shoving 
him in the back to get him to leave his place. 

Pavlo said : “Captain ! Hey, Captain !” 

The Captain started, like out of his sleep, and 
turned around. Pavlo handed him the mush without 
asking if he wanted it or not. 

The Captain’s eyebrows went up, and he looked 
at the stuff as if he’d never seen anything like it in 
all his life. 

“Take it, take it,” Pavlo said to set his mind at 
rest. He grabbed the last bowl of mush for the gang 
boss and went out. 

The Captain had a kind of shamefaced smile on 
his chapped lips. (He’d sailed ships all around Europe 
and the Arctic.) He bent down over the half bowl of 
thin oatmeal mush and he was happy. There was no 
fat in it— just water and oats. 

Fetyukov gave Shukhov and the Captain a nasty 
look and went off. 

But to Shukhov’s way of thinking, it was only 
right to give it to the Captain. The time would come 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

when he’d learn the ropes, but as it was he didn’t 
know his way around yet. 

Shukhov had a faint hope that Caesar might give 
the Captain his mush too. But then why should he, 
seeing he hadn’t had a package for two weeks now ? 

After he finished his second helping he cleaned 
the bottom and sides of the bowl with his crust of 
bread licking it all the time. Then he ate the crust 
as well. After he was all through, he took Caesar’s 
cold mush and went off. 

“Going to the office,” he said to the trusty at the 
door, who wasn’t supposed to let people through 
with bowls, and pushed past him. 

The office was a wooden shack next to the guard- 
room. Smoke was still belching out of the chimney, 
just like in the morning. The stove was kept going 
by an orderly who also worked as a messenger and 
was given a piece rate for this. The office never ran 
.out of firewood. 

The outside door and then the inside door (it 
was padded with rope) creaked when Shukhov opened 
them. He slipped in and brought a billowing cloud of 
«team with him, and pulled the door to fast (so they 
wouldn’t yell at him “Shut the door, you bastard !”). 

It was real hot inside — like a steam bath, he 
thought. The sun looked playful through the melting 
ice on the windowpanes — it wasn’t angry like on top 
of the power plant. And smoke from Caesar’s pipe 
was curling through the sunbeams like incense in a 
church. The stove was glowing red-hot — they’d stoked 
it up so much, the bastards. And the flues were red- 


One Day in the Life of ivan Denisovich 

hot too. 

Just sit down for a minute in that heat and you’d 
go to sleep right away. 

There were two rooms in the office. The second 
one, the work-supervisor’s, had the door slightly ajar. 
You could hear him shouting in there: 

“We’re overspending on wages and we’re over- 
spending on building materials. The prisoners are 
chopping up expensive boards and prefab walls and 
burning them in their shelters. But you don’t see a 
thing. And the other day they were unloading 
cement at the depot in a high wind and carting it a 
few yards in hods. So we were ankle-deep in cement 
all over the area around the depot, and they went 
away covered in the stuff. All this waste!” 

From the sound of things the supervisor was hav- 
ing a conference. Must have been with the foremen. 

An orderly was snoozing on a bench in a corner 
by the door. Next to himwasB-219, Shkuropatenko. 
He was like a bent beanpole. He was staring through 
the window and watching so nobody pinched his 
precious prefabs. He’d been caught napping over the 
roofing-felt, the sucker! 

There were two book-keepers — they were prisoners 
too— toasting bread on the stove. They’d rigged up 
a wire frame so it wouldn’t burn. 

Caesar was lolling in his chair at a table and 
smoking his pipe. He had his back to Shukhov and. 
. couldn’t see him. 

' K-123 was sitting across from him. He was a 
* Scrawny old man who’d done twenty years. He was 



One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

eating mush. 

“You’re wrong, pal,” Caesar was saying, and he 
was trying not to be too hard on him. “One must 
say in all objectivity that Eisenstein is a genius. Now 
isn’t Ivan the Terrible a work of genius? The oprich- 
niki* dancing in masks! The scene in the cathedral!’’ 

“All show-off!” K-123 snapped. He was holding 
his spoon in front of his mouth. “Too much art is no 
art at all. Like candy instead of bread! And the 
politics of it is utterly vile — vindication of a one-man 
tyranny. An insult to the memory of three genera- 
tions of Russians intellectuals!” (He ate his mush, 
but there was no taste in his mouth. It was wasted 
on him.) 

“But what other treatment of the subject would 
have been let through . . . ?” 

“Ha! Let through, you say? Then don’t call him 
a genius! Call him a toady, say he carried out orders 
like a dog. A genius doesn’t adapt his treatment to 
the taste of tyrants!” 

“Hm, hm!” Shukhov cleared his throat. He was 
afraid to butt in on this learned conversation. But he 
couldn’t just go on standing there. 

Caesar looked around and stretched out his hand 
for the mush, as if it had just come to him out of 
thin air. He didn’t even look at Shukhov and went 
back to his talk. 

“But listen! It’s not what but how that matters in 

K-123 jumped up andjbanged his fist on the table. 

“No! Your how can go to hell if it doesn’t raise 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

the right feelings in me!” 

After he’d handed over the mush, Shukhov went 
on standing there for just as long as was decent. He 
thought Caesar might give him a little tobacco. But 
Caesar’d clean forgot he was standing there behind 

So Shukhov turned and walked out quietly. 

It wasn’t bad outside. Not too cold. They’d do 
all right with the bricklaying today. 

Shukhov walked along a path. He saw a chunk 
of metal in the snow. It had broken off a steel plate. 
He could think of no particular use for it, but you 
never know when something might come in handy. 
He picked it up and put it in the knee pocket of his 
pants. He’d hide it in the power plants. It’s better 
to be thrifty than wealthy. 

When he got to the power plant, he first took his 
trowel from its hiding place and stuck it behind his 
rope belt. Then he ducked into the shed where they 
made the mortar. 

It seemed dark here, coming out of the sun, and 
no warmer than outside. And it felt damper some- 

The men were huddled around two stoves — the 
one Shukhov had set up here and the other one 
where the sand, steaming a little, was being heated. 
Those who didn’t have a place were sitting on the 
edge of the trough where the mortar was mixed. The 
gang boss was sitting right by the stove eating his 
mush. Pavlo’d warmed it up for him. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

The men were whispering among themselves. 
They were a little more cheerful. They told Ivan 
Denisovich that the boss had managed to wangle 
better rates for them. He’d come back from the office 
in a good mood. 

What sort of work he’d dreamed up for them was 
his business. What had they done in the morning? 
Nothing. They had nothing coming to them for the 
stove and the shelter. This was for them and didn’t 
•count as output. But something had to go down on 
the work sheet. May be Caesar would monkey with 
the cards for them too. The boss was respectful to 
him and there must be a reason for it. 

Tyurin got “better rates,” which meant they’d 
have good bread rations for five days. Well, may be 
four. The higher-ups always cheat on one day out of 
five. On the “guaranteed” day off they put every- 
body on an equal footing, both good and bad. Just- 
so-nobody-gets-upset sort of thing, and share and 
share alike. They saved something on this and it 
came out of the men’s bellies. So what? A prisoner’s 
belly can stand anything. Get by somehow today and 
•oat tomorrow. That’s what they all dream when they 
lie down to sleep on the day off. 

But come to think of it, they ate four days for 
every five they worked. 

The gang was quiet. The guys with tobacco were 
smoking on the sly. They were huddling in the dark- 
ness and looking at the fire. Like one big family. It 
'•was a family, your gang. They were listening to the 
•boss tell a story to a couple of the guys near the 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

stove. He never wasted his breath on talk, and if he 
got going with a story it meant he was in a good 

And he’d never learned to eat with his cap on, the 
boss He looked old without it. His head was shaved, 
like everybody else’s, and by the light of the stove you 
could see the stubble was all gray. 

“I was scared enough in front of the Major," he 
was saying, “but now I was up in front of the Colonel. 
‘Private of the Red Army Tyurin reporting,’ I 
say. He started at me and his eyebrows were fierce. 
‘What’s your first name and your father’s first name ?’ 
he asks. So I tell him. ‘And your date of birth?’ I tell 
him that too. I was twenty-two then, in 1930, just a 
kid. ‘Well, how are you serving,* Tyurin ?’ ‘I serve 
the working people !’ He blew up and banged both 
his fists on the table: ‘You serve the working people, 
but what are you, you bastard ?’ I boiled up inside* 
but I held myself in: ‘Machine-gunner first class. 
Top marks in military and political...’ I say. ‘What 
do you mean, first class, you swine ? Your father’s a 
kulak! Here are the papers from Karnen! Your 
father’s a kulak and you ran away. They’ve been 
hunting you for two years now !” I got pale all over 
and said nothing. I didn’t write home for a year so 
they wouldn’t get on my track. I didn’t know whether 
my folks were still alive and they knew nothing about, 
me. ‘You’ve got no conscience’, he bawls, ‘deceiving; 
the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government !’ and his- 
four shoulder straps were shaking. I thought he was. 
going to beat me up. But he didn’t. He signed at> 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

order for me to be kicked out in six hours.. -It was*. 
November. They stripped off my winter uniform and 
gave me a worn-out summer one with an overcoat 
that was too short. I was all fucked up and didn’t 
know I could have kept the other uniform and told 
them to go to hell . And they gave me a lousy 
discharge: ‘Dismissed from the ranks as the son of 
a kulak.’ Some chance of getting a job with that ! It 
was a four days’ train ride home and they didn’t give 
me a ticket. They didn’t give me any food either. 
They just gave me my last meal in the barracks and 
kicked me out. 

“By the way, in thirty-eight I met my old ser- 
geant in the Kotlas transit camp. He’d gotten ten 
years too. Well, I got to know from him that this- 
Colonel and his commissar were both shot in thirty- 
seven. It didn’t make much difference then whether 
they were proletarians or kulaks, whether they had a 
conscience or not ... I crossed myself and said: 
‘There’s a God in heaven after all. He’s long-suffer- 
ing, but when he hits you, it hurts.’” 

After the two bowls of mush, Shukhov wanted a 
smoke real bad. And figuring he could buy a couple 
of mugs of tobacco from the Latvian in Barracks 7 
and pay back the loan later, he said quietly to the 
Estonian fisherman: 

“Listen, Eino, lend me a little till tomorrow— just 
enough for one cigarette. You know I won’t gyp 

Eino looked Shukhov straight in the eyes and then 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

looked at his bosom pal. They always shared and 
shared alike and wouldn’t use a single shred of 
tobacco without the other knowing. They said some- 
thing to each other under their breath and Eino got 
out his pouch stitched with pink cord. He took some 
tobacco and put it in Shukhov’s hand. Then he had 
another look and threw in a few more strands — just 
enough to make a cigarette but no more. 

Shukhov had some newspaper. He tore a piece 
•off, rolled a cigarette, and lit it with a cinder that 
had fallen between the boss’s feet. And then he 
•dragged and dragged on it, over and over again ! He 
had a giddy feeling all over his body, like it was go- 
ing to his feet as well as his head. 

The minute he started to smoke, he saw a pair of 
green eyes flashing at him from the other end of the 
shed. It was Fetyukov. He might have taken pity 
on that scavenger, but he’d been cadging already to- 
day. Shukhov had seen him at it. Better leave the 
butt for Senka Klevshin. He couldn’t hear the boss’s 
story, poor devil, and was just sitting therein front of 
the stove with his head on one side. 

The boss’s face — it was all pockmarked— was lit 
up by the fire. He told his story without pity, like it 
■wasn’t about himself: 

“I sold the junk I had for a quarter of its worth 
to a dealer and bought two loaves of bread on the 
black market. They’d brought in ration cards by 
then. I thought I’d get home by riding freights, but 
they’d just put out some tough laws against that. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

And you couldn’t get tickets then, remember, even 
with money, never mind without it. They only gave 
’em out for vouchers or for travel orders. You 
couldn’t even get into the station — they had militia- 
men at the gates and guards on both sides of the 
tracks. The sun was going down and the puddles 
were freezing over. Where could I spend the night ? 
I climbed a brick wall, jumped over with my two 
loaves of bread, and got into the station latrine. I 
hid out there for a while, but there was no one after 
me. Then I came out, just like I was a passenger, a 
soldier in uniform. The Vladivostok-Moscow was 
standing right there on the track. There was a great 
scramble for getting boiling water and people were 
hitting each other on the head with their kettles. 
There was a girl in a blue dress with a large teakettle, 
but she was too scared to try and get some water — 
afraid she’d get her tiny little feet scalded or crushed. 
‘Here, hold these,’ I said and gave her my loaves. 
‘I’ll get it for you!’ By the time I got it, the train was 
just ready to go. She was standing there with my 
loaves and crying and didn’t know what to do with 
them — she wouldn’t have minded losing her kettle. 
‘Run !’ I shouted, ‘Run ! I’ll come after you !’ So she 
made a dash for the train. I caught up with her and 
pushed her into the coach — the train was already 
moving— with one arm and then jumped on myself. 
The conductor didn’t try to hit me over the knuckles 
or push me off — there were other soldiers in the coach 
and he thought I belonged with them.” 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Shukhov nudged Senka in the ribs for him to take 
•the butt, poor devil. He gave it to him in his wooden 
holder. Let him have a draw on it, it didn’t matter. 
Senka was a real character. He put his hand on his 
heart and bowed like an actor on a stage. 

The boss went on : “There were six other girls 
in the compartment — it was reserved — students from 
Leningrad they were, going back home from some 
fieldwork or other. They had bread and butter and 
all kinds of fancy things on the tables in front of 
them. Their coats were hung up on hooks and they 
had covers on their suitcases. They didn’t know what 
real life was— they’d had it easy all the way . . . 

We talked and joked and had tea together. Then 
they asked me what coach I’d come from. I sighed 
and told them the truth. ‘Girls,’ I said, “in the coach 
I come from you can’t live. . . .”’ 

It was quite in the shed. The stove was blazing. 

“After a lot of oh-ing and ah-ing they had a little 
talk and hid me under their coats on the top bunk. 
They got me all the way to Novosibirsk like that. ... 
By the way, I met one of those girls later in one of 
the Pechora camps and did her a favor in return. 
She’d been picked up in thirty-five over the Kirov 
business* and she was just about on her last leg 
doing ‘hard.’ I managed to fix her up in one of the 

“Maybe I should start making the mortar?” 
Pavlo asked the boss in a whisper. 

But the boss didn’t hear him. He went on with 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 
his story : 

“I got home late one night and went in through 
the back garden. I went away again the same night 
and took my kid brother with me. I took him down 
south, to Frunze, where it’s warmer, I had no food 
for him or me. They were making tar in a caldron 
on one of the streets there, and a gang of young thugs 
"was sitting around it. 1 went and sat down with them 
and I said, ‘Listen here, gentlemen of the gutter, 
take this kid brother of mine and give him an 
education. Teach him hoW to live.’ And they did. 
Sorry I didn’t go off with them myself. . . .” 

“And you never saw your brother again?” asked 
the Captain. 

The boss yawned. 

“No, I never saw him again.” And he yawned 
once more. Then he said : “Don’t worry, boys ! We’ll 
make ourselves at home in the power plant. You 
boys making the mortar’d better get busy. Don’t wait 
for the whistle.” 

That’s how it was in your gang. The higher-ups 
had a job to get a prisoner to work even in working 
hours, but your boss only had to say the word, even 
if it was the meal break, and you worked. Because it 
was the boss who fed you. And he wouldn’t make 
you work if you didn’t have to. 

If they didn’t start making the mortar before the 
whistle, the men laying the bricks would be held up. 

Shukhov sighed and got up. 

“I’ll go and clear the ice.” 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

He took a hatchet and a wire brush for the ice, a 
bricklayer’s gavel, a yardstick, and a plumb line. 

Kilgas looked at Shukhov and made a face as if 
to ask what he meant by going on ahead of the boss. 
Kilgas didn’t have to worry about food for the gang. 
What did he care how much bread they got? He 
did all right on packages from home. 

All the same he got to his feet. He knew he 
couldn’t hold up the gang just for himself. 

“Hold it, Ivan, I’ll come along too,” he said. 

Trust old moonface. If he’d been working for 
himself, he’d have been on his feet even sooner. (And 
another reason Shukhov was in a hurry— he wanted 
to grab the plumb line before Kilgas. They’d only 
gotten one from the tool shop.) 

“Will there be three laying the bricks?” Pavlo 
asked the boss. “Should we put another man on ? Or 
won’t there be enough mortar?” 

The boss frowned and thought a while. “I’ll be 
the fourth man myself, Pavlo. And what’s that about 
the mortar? The mixer’s so big you could put six 
men on the job. You take the stuff out at one end 
while it’s being mixed at the other. You just see 
we’re not held up a single minute !” 

Pavlo jumped up. He was a young fellow and he 
had a good color. He still hadn’t been too hard bit 
by life in the camps. And his cheeks were still round 
from eating those Ukrainian dumplings back home. 
“If you lay bricks,” he said, “I’ll make the mortar. 
And we’ll see who works the fastest! Where’s the 
biggest shovel around here ?” 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Tvarmth in it. When you slapped it on the wall with 
your trowel you had to work quick so it wouldn’t 
freeze. If it did, you couldn’t get it off again, either 
with your trowel or the back of your gravel, and if 
you laid a brick a little out of place it froze to the 
spot and stuck there. Then the only thing to do 
was pry it off with the back of the pick and hack 
the mortar away again. 

But Shukhov never made a mistake. His bricks 
were always right in line. If one of them was broken 
or had a fault, Shukhov spotted it right off the bat 
and found the place on the wall where it would fit. 

He’d scoop up some steaming mortar with his 
trowel, throw it on, and remember how the groove 
of the brick ran so he’d get the next one on dead 
center. He always put on just enough mortar for 
each brick. Then he’d pick up a brick out of the pile, 
but with great care so he wouldn’t get a hole in his 
mitten — they were pretty rough, these bricks. Then 
he’d level off the mortar with a trowel and drop the 
brick on top. He had to even it out fast and tap it 
in place with his trowel if it wasn’t right, so the out- 
side wall would be straight as a die and the bricks 
level both crossways and lengthways, and then they 
froze in place. If any mortar was squeezed out from 
under a brick, you had to scrape it off with the edge 
of your trowel fast as you could and throw it away 
(in summer you could use it for the next brick, but 
not in this weather). This could happen when you 
had a brick with a piece broken off the end, so 
you had to lay on a lot more mortar to fill in. You 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

couldn’t just lay a brick like that, but you had to 
slide it up to the next one, and that’s when you’d get 
this extra mortar running out. 

He was hard at work now. Once he ironed out 
the snags left by the guy who’d worked here before 
and laid a couple of rows of his own, it’d be easy 
going. But right now he had to watch things like a 

He was working like crazy on the outside row to 
meet Senka halfway. Now Senka was getting closer 
to Shukhov. He’d started together with the boss at 
the corner, but the boss was now going the other 
way. Shukhov signaled the fellows carrying the hods 
to bring the stuff up to him on the double. He was 
so busy he didn’t have time to wipe his nose. 

When he and Senka came together, they started 
taking mortar out of the same hod. There wasn’t 
enough to go around. 

“Mortar !” Shukhov yelled over the wall. 

“Here she comes !’’ Pavlo shouted back. 

Another hod came along, and they used up what 
was still soft. But a lot of it was frozen to the sides 
and they told the fellows to scrape it off themselves. 
There was no sense in them carrying all the frozen 
stuff down again. 

“Okay, that’s it. Next one.” 

Shukhov and the other bricklayers didn’t feel the 
cold any more. They were now going all out and 
they were hot — the way you are at the start of a job 
like this when you get soaking wet under your coat 
and jacket and both shirts. But they didn’t stop for 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

a second and went on working like crazy. After an 
hour, they got so hot the sweat dried on them. The 
main thing was they didn’t get the cold in their feet. 
Nothing else mattered. The slight cutting wind didn’t 
take their minds off the work. Only Klevshin kept 
banging one foot against the other. He wore size 
nine, but each boot was a different size and both 
were tight. 

Tyurin kept shouting for more mortar and so did 
Shukhov. Any fellow who really worked hard always 
became a sort of gang boss for a time. The main 
thing for Shukhov was not to lag behind, and for 
this he’d have chased his own brother up and down 
that ladder with a hod. 

At first it was the Captain and Fetyukov who 
carried the stuff up together. The ladder was steep 
and slippery, and for a time the Captain went pretty 
slow. Shukhov tried to push him a little : “Come 
on there. Captain. We need more bricks. Captain.” 

But the Captain got better all the time and Fetyu- 
kov got slacker and slacker. He kept tilting the hod 
— the sonofabitch — and spilled some of the mortar 
to ease the load. 

Once Shukhov gave him a poke in the back. “You 
lazy slob. I bet you really took it out on the fellows 
in that factory you managed !” 

“Boss,” the Captain shouted, “give me a man to 
work with. I can’t go on with this shithead.” 

So Tyurin switched them around. He put Fetyu- 
kov on the job throwing bricks up to the scaffold in 
a place where they could see how much work he was 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

doing. And he put Alyoshka with the Captain. 
Alyoshka was a quiet fellow and he took orders from 
anybody who felt like giving them. “Full steam 
ahead, sailor,” the Captain shouted at him. “Look 
at the way they’re laying those bricks.” 

Alyoshka gave him that meek smile of his. “If we 
have to go faster, then let’s go. Whatever you say.” 
And they went down the ladder. A meek fellow like 
that is a real godsend in any gang. 

The boss shouted down to somebody. It seemed 
another truck with bricks had come. They hadn’t 
brought a brick for six months and now they were 
coming thick and fast. This was the time to work, 
while they were still bringing them. It was only the 
first day. If things got held up later on they’d never 
get back in the swing of it. 

Down below the boss was swearing again, some- 
thing about the hoist. Shukhov would’ve liked to find 
out what was going on, but he didn’t have the time. 
He was finishing off a row. A couple of the hod men 
came up and told him an electrician had come to fix 
the motor on the hoist. The foreman in change of 
electrical work had come with him. He was a “free” 
worker and he just stood looking while the electrician 
tinkered with the motor. 

That’s how it always was. One fellow looked on 
while the other worked. If they could fix the hoist 
now they could use it to bring up the bricks and 

Shukhov was already on his third row of bricks 
(and so was Kilgas) when another of those higher-ups 


OnefDay in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

That’s what these gangs did to a man. There was 
Pavlo who used to carry a gun in the forests and 
make raids on villages. Why the hell should he kill 
himself with work in this place ? But there’s nothing 
you wouldn’t do for your boss. 

Shukhov went up with Kilgas. They could hear 
Senka coming up the ladder after them. He’d gotten 
the idea, deaf as he was. 

The walls for the second story had only just been 
started. Three rows of bricks all around and a little 
higher in places. This was the quickest part of the 
job — from knee level up to your chest and no need to 
stand on scaffolds. 

The scaffolds had all been carted off by the other 
prisoners — either taken away to other buildings or 
burned — just so nobody else could have them. Now, 
to do a decent job, they’d have to make new ones the 
next day. If not they’d be stymied. 

You could see a lot from the top of the plant — 
the whole compound covered with snow and not a 
soul in sight (the prisoners were all under cover, 
trying to get warm before the whistle blew), the black 
watchtowers, and the pointed poles with barbed wire. 
You couldn’t see the wire if you looked into the sun, 
only if you looked away from it. It was shining bright 
and your eyes couldn’t stand the light. 

And close by, you could see the steam engine that 
made the power. It was smoking like hell and making 
the sky black. Then it started breathing hard. It 
always wheezed like a sick man before it sounded 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

the whistle. There it came now. They hadn’t put in 
that much overtime after all. 

“Hey, Stakhanovite ! Hurry up with that plumb 
line !” Kilgas tried to hustle him. 

“Look at all that ice on your part of the wall !” 
Shukhov jeered back at him. “Do you think you 
can clear it off by the evening? That trowel won’t be 
much good to you if you don’t !” 

They were going to lay the walls they’d settled on 
in the morning, but then the boss shouted up at 
them : 

“Hey, there ! we’ll work two to a wall so the 
mortar doesn’t freeze in the hods. You take Senka 
on your wall, Shukhov, and I’ll work with Kilgas. 
Meanwhile Pavlo’ll clean off Kilgas’ wall for me.” 

Shukhov and Kilgas looked at each other. He 
was right. It would be easier like that. They grabbed 
their picks. 

Shukhov no longer saw the view with the glare 
of sun on the snow. And he didn’t see the prisoners 
leaving their shelters either and fanning out over the 
compound, some to finish digging holes started in the 
morning and others to put up the rafters on the roofs 
of the worhshops. All he saw now was the wall 
in front of him — from the left-hand corner where it 
was waist-high to the right-hand corner where it 
joined up with Kilgas’. He showed Senka where to 
hack off the ice and he hacked away at it himself for 
all he was worth with the head and blade of his pick, 
so that chips of ice were flying all around and in his 
face too. He was doing a good job and he was fast. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

but his mind wasn’t on it. In his mind, he could see 
the wall under the ice, the outside wall of the power 
plant that was two bricks thick. He didn’t know 
the man who’d worked on it in his place before. But 
that guy sure didn’t know his job. He’d messed it 
up. Shukhov was now getting used to the wall like 
it was his own. One brick was too far in, and he’d 
have to lay three rows all over again to make it flush 
and also lay the mortar on thicker. Then in another 
spot the wall was bulging out a little, and he’d have 
to make that flush too. He figured how he’d split 
up the wall. The part he’d lay himself from the 
beginning, on the left, and what Senka’d lay as far 
as Kilgas, to the right. There on the corner, he 
guessed, Kilgas wouldn’t be able to hold back and 
he’d do some of Senka’s job for him so it would be 
a little easier on Senka. And while they were busy 
at the corner, he’d put up more than half the wall 
here so they wouldn’t get behind. And he figured 
out how many bricks he’d lay where. The minute 
they started bringing bricks up, he grabbed hold of 
Alyoshka : “Bring ’em over to me ! Put ’em right 
over here !” 

Senka was hacking off the last of the ice, and 
Shukhov picked up a wire brush and started scrubbing 
the wall with it all over. He cleaned the top layer of 
bricks till they were a light gray color like dirty 
snow and got the ice out of the grooves. While he 
was still busy with his brush Tyurin came up and set 
his yardstick up at the corner. Shukhov and Kilgas 
had put theirs up a long time ago. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

“Hey !” Pavlo shouted from down below. “Any- 
body still alive up there ? Here we come with the 
mortar !” 

Shukhov got in a sweat. He hadn’t put up his 
leveling string yet. He figured he’d put it high 
enough for three rows at once, and some to spare. 
And to make things easier for Senka, he took part of 
the outside row and left him a little of the inside. 
While he was putting up the string, he told Senka 
with words and signs where to start laying. He got it 
deaf as he was. He bit his lips and squinted over at 
the boss’s wall as if to say, “Well show 'em. We’ll 
keep up with ’em.” And he laughed. 

Now they were bringing the mortar up the ladder. 
There’d be eight men on the job, working in twos. 
The boss told them not to put troughs with mortar 
near the bricklayers — the mortar’d only freeze before 
they got to use it — but to have the stuff brought up 
to them in the hods so they could take it out right 
away, two at a time, and slap it on the wall. And so 
the guys who brought up the hods wouldn’t stand 
around freezing up here on top, they’d carry bricks 
over to the layers. And when their hods were empty, 
the next two came up from down below without 
wasting any time, and the first two went down again. 
Then they thawed out their hod by the stove to get 
the frozen mortar off it and try to get as warm as 
they could themselves. 

Two hods came up together, one for Kilgas’wall 
and the other for Shukhov’s. The mortar was steam- 
ing in the freezing cold, though there wasn’t much 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

“You don’t think I’d mind, do you? Trouble is, 
the book-keeping section wouldn’t pass it.” 

“You and your damn bookkeepers! I’ve got the 
whole gang working here just to keep four bricklayers 
busy. What’s it going to look like on the work sheet?” 
He didn’t stop laying bricks for a second while he 
was saying all this. “Mortar!” he shouted down. 

“Mortar!” Shukhov shouted right after him. 

They’d finished [up the third row of bricks and 
they could really get going on the fourth. He ought 
to raise the level of the string, but he didn’t want 
to waste time and he’d manage as it was and do the 
next row without it. 

Der went off across the compound. He was shiver- 
ing and was going to the office to get warm. He 
hadn’t felt too good up at the power plant. He 
should’ve thought twice before taking on a tough 
customer like Tyurin. He could’ve gotten along fine 
with the gang bosses — he didn’t have to kill himself 
working, he had a big ration and a room to himself, 
so what more did he want? He just couldn’t help 
throwing his weight around and acting smart. 

Somebody came up and said the electrician and 
the work-supervisor had gone away and hadn’t man- 
aged to fix up the hoist. 

So they just had to go on doing the work of 

Shukhov had been on lots of different jobs and it 
was always the same story. Machines either broke 
down themselves or they were broken by the pris- 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

■oners. He remembered how they’d broken the con- 
veyor belt in the lumber camp. They put a stick in 
the works and pressed on it. They wanted a rest. You 
had to keep piling those logs on without a break. 

“More bricks, more bricks, more bricks!” the boss 
was yelling, and he told them to go screw their 
mothers, the whole damn bunch of them, the hod 
men and the fellows bringing the bricks. 

“Pavlo wants to know what to do about the mor- 
tar,” they shouted up from below. 

“How much more do you want?” 

“We’ve still got half a trough down there.” 

“Well, give us another one.” 

Things were really moving fast now — they were 
on the fifth row of bricks. They’d had to bend double 
for the first one and now the wall was up to their 
chests. It was easy enough with no windows and no 
doors— just two solid walls and all the bricks in the 
world. They should’ve put the string up higher, but 
it was too late. 

Gopchik spread the word that 82 had gone to 
hand in their tools. Tyurin looked murder at him. 
“Get on with the job, you little squirt. Keep those 
bricks moving.” 

Shukhov looked around. Yeah, the sun was going 
down. It was all red and there was a kind of gray 
haze around it. And just when they’d gotten into 
stride. They were on the fifth row now and that 
would be the last today. 

The fellows bringing the mortar were winded like 
horses. The Captain looked kind of gray in the face. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

He was forty, after all, or thereabout. 

It was getting colder all the time. Work or no 
work, your fingers felt numb already in these thin 
mittens. And the cold was coming into Shukhov’s 
left boot. He kept stamping it on the floor. 

He didn’t have to bend down to lay the wall any 
more, but he had the backbreaking business of ben- 
ding down for every brick and every scoop of mortar. 

“Hey, you guys, hey!” He started badgering the 
men bringing the bricks and mortar. “Can’t you get 
those bricks over here?” 

The Captain would have done it gladly, but he 
didn’t have the strength. He wasn’t used to this sort 
of work. But Alyoshka said, “Okay, Ivan Denisovich, 
whatever you say.” 

Alyoshka would never say no. He always did 
whatever you asked. If only everybody in the world 
was like that, Shukhov would be that way too. If 
someone asked you, why not help him out? They were 
right on that, these people. From way over on the 
other side of the compound — it came over loud and 
clear at the power plant — they could hear them 
pounding the rail. The signal to knock off! They’d 
made too much mortar. That’s what came of trying 
too hard. 

“Mortar! Mortar!” the boss shouted. 

They’d just mixed a lot more so they’d have to go 
on laying now. There was no other way. If they 
didn’t empty the mixer they’d have to smash it up 
the next morning because the mortar would be hard 
as iron and they’d never be able to hack it out. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

“Come on, keep at it, fellows !” Shukhov was 

Kilgas didn’t like this. He didn’t like rush jobs but 
he went on for all he was worth. He couldn’t do 
anything else. Pavlo came running upstairs with a 
hod on his back and a trowel in his hand. He wanted 
to help with the bricklaying too, so there were five 
trowels on the job now. 

There wasn’t much time to lay bricks in the tough 
spots. Shukhov always picked out the right brick 
beforehand. He pushed the gravel over to Alyoshka 
and told him, “Here, knock it into shape for me.” 

You can’t work well if you’re in too much of a 
hurry. Now that the others were going full blast, 
Shukhov slowed down and took a good look at the 
wall. He went to the main corner on the right and 
sent Senka over to the left-hand one. If there was 
any trouble with the corners they’d lose a lot of time 
the next morning. 

“Stop!” He grabbed a brick from Pavlo and laid 
it himself. Then he saw at the other end that Senka 
was doing the wrong thing at his corner. He dashed 
over and straightened things out with a couple of 

The Captain trudged up with another hod. He was 
as willing as an old carthorse. 

“Two more to come !” he shouted. 

He could barely stand on his feet any more, the 
Captain, but he kept on going. Shukhov had an old 
horse like that at home once. He took good care of 
that old horse, but he worked himself to death. And 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

who were always looking over your shoulder came 
up the ladder. This was the building foreman, Der. 
He was from Moscow. They said he’d once worked in 
a ministry there. 

Shukhov was standing close to Kilgas and he 
jerked his thumb over at Der. 

“Aha,” Kilgas just shrugged. “I don’t have any- 
thing to do with that sort, but if he falls off the 
ladder just call me.” 

Der would now sneak up behind them and watch 
them work. Shukhov just couldn’t stand these nosy 
guys. Der was trying to rise in the word and get 
himself made an engineer, the damn swine. He’d once 
tried to show them how to lay bricks and Shukhov 
just laughed himself sick. To his and everybody else’s 
way of thinking, you should build a house with your 
own hands before you started talking about being an 

In Shukhov’s home village there were no stone 
houses, only wooden shacks. And the school was built 
of logs too — they got as much wood as they liked 
from the forest. But now in the camp he had to do a 
bricklayer’s job. So okay, he did. Anybody who knew 
two trades could pick up a dozen more just like that. 

Der didn’t fall off the ladder, he only tripped a 
couple of times. He almost ran up. 

“Tyurin,” he yelled, and his eyes were popping 
out of his head. “Tyurin !” Pavlo ran up the ladder 
after him with his shovel in his hands. Der was wear- 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

ing a quilted coat like everybody else in the camp* 
but it was new and clean He had a good leather cap 
on his head, but he had a number on it like every- 
body else — B-731. 

“What is it ?” Tyurin came up to him with his 
trowel. His cap had slipped to one side and covered 
his eye. 

Something was up. Shukhov didn’t want to miss 
it, but the mortar was freezing in his hod. He kept 
right on working while he listened. 

“What the hell is this ?” Der bawled. He was 
foaming at the mouth. “You’ll get more than a stretch 
in the can for this. This is a criminal matter, Tyurin. 
You’ll get another sentence for this on top of the 
two you already have.” 

Now it hit Shukhov what it was all about. He 
shot a glance at Kilgas — he’d already caught on. It 
was the roofing-felt ! Der had seen it on the windows. 

Shukhov wasn’t a bit worried about himself— his 
boss wouldn’t give him away — but he was scared for 
Tyurin. The boss was like a father to you, but to 
them he was nothing at all. Up here in the North they 
were always slapping on new sentences for things 
like this. 

God, the way the boss’s face twitched all over. 
The way he threw his trowel on the floor and went 
over to Der. Der looked around. Pavlo was standing, 
there with his shovel up. 

He hadn’t brought it up with him for nothing 

And Senka, deaf as he was, had seen what it was all 
about. And he came out with his hands on his hips. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

He was strong as an ox. Der started blinking. He was 
worried and he looked around for a way out. The 
boss leaned over close to Der and said kind of quiet, 
but so you could hear it up there : “Times have 
changed for scum like you handing out new sentences! 
If you say a word, you, bloodsucker, you won’t be 
alive much longer. Get it?” The boss was shaking 
all over and he couldn’t stop. 

And Pavlo was looking murder at Der. He had a 
face like a hawk. 

“Take it easy, boys. Take it easy,” Der said. He 
was all pale and he edged away from the ladder a 

The boss didn’t say another word. He straightened 
his cap, picked up his bent trowel, and went back to 
his wall. 

And Pavlo went slowly downstairs again with his 
shovel. Very slowly. . . . 

Der was scared to stay up here, and he was scared 
to go back down ladder too. He went and stood 
near Kilgas. 

Kilgas laid bricks like a druggist weighing out 
medicine. He had a face like a doctor and he was 
never in a rush. He stood with his back to Der like 
he hadn’t seen him. 

Der sidled up to the boss. He was singing a diffe- 
rent tune now. “What do I say to the work-super- 
visor, Tyurin ?” 

The boss went on laying bricks and didn’t turn his 
head : “Tell him - it was there before. Say it was here- 
when we came.” 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Der hung around a little longer. He saw they 
wouldn’t kill him now. He walked up and down with 
his hands in his pockets. 

“Hey, S-854,” he growled at Shukhov. “Why you 
laying that mortar on so thin ?” 

He had to take it out on somebody. He couldn’t 
find fault with anything else so he picked on the 

“You might like to know, my dear sir,” Shukhov 
said through that gap in his teeth and leered at him, 
“if I lay this stuff on thick now, this power plant’ll 
just melt away in the spring.” 

Der scowled. 

“You’re a bricklayer and you have to do what your 
foreman tells you.” And he puffed up his cheeks the 
way he always did. Well, maybe Shukhov was laying 
it on a little thin in places and it could be a little 
thicker, but only if you worked in the right weather, 
not in this freezing cold. They should have a heart, 
but all they think about is output. But how could 
you get this across to people who didn’t have any 
brains? Der took his time going down the ladder. 

“You fix up that hoist for me,” Tyurin shouted 
after him. “What do you think we are, mules or 
something, hauling bricks up here by hand?” 

“You get a rate for haulage,” Der answered from 
the ladder, but he wasn’t shouting any more. 

“You mean that crap in the rules and regulations 
about ‘Wheelbarrows, For the Use of’ ? I’d like to see 
you running a wheelbarrow up that ladder. Give us a 
rate ‘Hods, For the Use of’.” 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

then they skinned the hide off him. 

The sun was really going down now. They didn’t 
need Gopchik to tell them — they could see all the 
other gangs had handed in their tools and were 
crowding over to the guardroom. (Nobody ever went 
over right away after they’d pounded the rail — they 
weren’t crazy enough to stand around there freezing. 
They stayed put in their shelters. But then after a 
while the gang bosses would agree among themselves 
on the right moment for all the gangs to come out 
together. The prisoners were so pigheaded that other- 
wise they’d just hang around till midnight, waiting 
for the others.) 

Tyurin got some sense now. He could see how 
late they were. The fellow in the tool shed must be 
cursing him like crazy. 

“Hey !” he shouted. “Don’t worry about all that 
shit. Who cares about it ? Get downstairs and empty 
out that mixer. Take the stuff and put it in that hole 
over there and cover it over with snow so nobody 
can see it. And you, Pavlo, get a couple of other 
guys, collect all the tools, and turn them in. I’ll send 
the last three trowels over with Gopchik. We’ll just 
finish off these two hods here.” 

They rushed over and grabbed Shukhov’s gravel 
out of his hand and took his string down. Then the 
hod men and the brick carriers beat it down the 
ladder. There was nothing more for them to do up 
here. There were just the three bricklayers left — 
Kilgas, Klevshin, and Shukhov. Tyurin went around 
and looked at what they’d done. He was pleased. Not 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

bad, eh, for one afternoon’s work ? And without that 
fucking hoist too. 

Shuhkov saw Kilgas still had a little mortar left. 
He was worried about Tyurin getting hell in the tool 
shed for not bringing the trowels back on time. 

“Listen boys.” Shukhov had a bright idea. “You 
give yours to Gopchik so he can take ’em over and 
I’ll finish off the job with mine. They don’t know 
I’ve got it so they won’t have to check it in.” 

The boss laughed. “What the hell are we going to 
do without you when you’ve served your time ? We’U 
all be crying our hearts out for you.” Shukhov 
laughed too and then went on with the job. Kilgas 
went off with the trowels. Senka started passing 
bricks to Shukhov and put Kilgas’ mortar into his 

Gopchik ran to the tool shed to try and catchup 
with Pavlo. And the rest of 104 started off for the 
guardroom without the boss. True, the boss’s word 
went a long way, but what the escort guards said 
was law. If they booked you for being late, you 
could land in the cooler. There was a great crowd 
around the guardroom. Everybody was there. From 
the looks of it the escort had begun counting them. 

They counted you twice on the way out — once 
with the gates still shut, so they knew if they could 
open them, and then a second time when you were 
going through the gates. And if they thought there 
was something wrong, they did a recount outside. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

To hell with that mortar. The boss waved his 
arm. “Dump it over the wall and clear out.” 

“You better beat it, boss. You’re needed over 
there.” And just as a joke, as the boss clumped down 
the ladder, he said: “Why do the sonsofbitches give 
us such a short working day? You’ve just about gotten 
into the job and they pull you off it!’ 

Shukhov was on his own with the deaf fellow now. 
You couldn’t talk with him very much, but you 
didn’t have to either. He was smarter than every- 
body and caught on to everything without having to 
be told. 

Slap on the mortar! Slap on the bricks! Press ’em 
down and look ’em over ! Mortar, brick, mortar, 
brick . . . 

The boss had said not to worry about the mortar. 
(“Dump it over the wall and clear out.”) , But 
Shukhov was kind of funny about these things. t 
he couldn’t help it even after eight years of 
He still worried about every little thing and about att- 
kinds of work. He couldn’t stand seeing things 

Mortar, brick, mortar, brick 

“That does it,” Senka shouted. “Let’s get the hell 
out of here.” 

He grabbed the hod and went down the ladder. 
But Shukhov — the guards could set the dogs on him 
for all he cared now — ran back to have a last look. 
Not bad. He went up and looked over the wall from 
left to right. His eye was true as a level. The wall 
was straight as a die. His hands were still good for 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

something ! 

He ran down the ladder. Senka was already 
halfway down the rise. 

“Come on, come on,” Senka said over his 

“You go ahead. I’m coming,” Shukhov said and 
waved his hand. Ahd he went back inside. He 
couldn’t leave his trowel just like that. Maybe he 
wouldn’t be on the job tomorrow. Or maybe they’d 
put the gang on the Socialist Community Develop- 
ment and they wouldn’t be here for another six 
months. He’d never see his trowel again. So he 
had to stash it away. Both stoves had gone out. It 
was dark and he felt sort of scared. He wasn’t 
scared about the dark itself but because he was here 
alone. And he’d be missed at the checkout and the 
guards might beat him up. 

All the same he took a close look around till he 
found a rock in the corner. He rolled it back, put 
the trowel under it, and covered it up. Now every- 
thing was okay ! 

All he had left to do was catch up with Senka 
fast as he could. But Senka’d only gone a few yards 
and was waiting for him. He wasn’t the kind to leave 
you in the lurch. If you were in trouble, he was 
always there to take the rap with you. 

The two of them ran off together. Senka was 
taller than Shukhov by half a head, and he had a 
great big head at that. 

There are some people with nothing better to do 


'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

than race each other around a track just for sport 
and of their own free will. How would they like it, 
the bastards, if they had to do it after a real day’s 
work, without a chance to straighten their backs, with 
their mittens soaked in sweet, and their boots worn 
-all thin — and in freezing cold like this ? 

They were painting like hell. 

But the boss was over there at the guardroom and 
he’d think of something to tell them. 

Now they were almost back with the others, and 
•it frightened them. 

A hundred voices bawled at them: “Scum! 
Bastards ! Motherfuckers . . . !” It’s a terrible thing 
when hundreds of men start shouting at you all at 
once. What really bothered them was what would 
the escort guards do to them ? 

But it looked like the guards didn’t give a damn. 
Tyurin was here at the back of the crowd. He’d told 
them and taken the blame on himself. 

The men were still screaming murder. They were 
screaming so even Senka, deaf as he was, could hear 
it. And he got so mad he started shouting back. He 
was a quiet sort of fellow but now he laced into 
them. He shook his fist and he looked like he’d go 
for them. And then the men quieted down and 
some of them laughed. 

“Hey, 104,” somebody shouted. “We thought 
that guy of yours was deaf. We were only checking 
.up.” They all laughed, even the escorts. 

“Line up by fives !” 

They didn’t open the gates. They weren’t sure 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

everything was all right yet. And they shoved the 
crowd back (they’d all pushed up to the gate, the 
dopes, as if that’d get ’em out sooner). 

“Line up by fi-i-ves !” 

And they started moving forward by fives, a few 
yards at a time, as they were called. 

Shukhov had gotten his breath back now and he 
looked up at the sky. The moon had come up full 
and it looked all purple, and may be it was on the 
Wane already. It had been much higher up this time 
the day before. 

Shukhov was glad they’d gotten off so easy, and 
he poked the Captain in the ribs, sort of kidding 
him. “Captain, tell me what it says in those books 
you’ve studied about what happens to the old moon 
when it goes down.’’ 

“What d’you mean? Where does it go ? You’re 
just ignorant. It’s simply you can’t see it !” 

Shukhov shook his head and laughed. “But if 
you can’t see it, how do you know it’s there ?” 

“So you think” — the Captain just looked at 
him — “so you think we get a brand-new moon every 
month ?” 

“Well, don’t we ? If people are born every day, 
why shouldn’t there be a brand-new moon every four 

“Come off it.” The Captain spat. “I’ve never met 
such a dumb sailor in my life. Where d’you think 
the old one goes to ?” 

“Well, that’s what I’m asking you*” Shukhov 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

said, and you could see the gap in his teeth. 

“Well, you tell me.” 

Shukhov sighed and said with that funny lisp of 
his : “The old people at home used to say God 
breaks the old moon up into stars.” 

“What ignorance,” the Captain said and laughed. 
“Never heard that one before. Do you believe in 
God then, Shukhov?” 

. “And why not?” Shukhov said. “When he 
thunders up there in the sky, how can you help 
believe in Him?” 

“And why does God do that?” 

“Do what ?” 

“Break the moon up into stars,” the Captain 

“Don’t you see ?” And Shukhov shrugged his 
shoulders. “The stars keep falling down, so you’ve 
got to have new ones in their place.” 

“Get a move on there, you motherfuckers !” the 
guards yelled. “Line up !” 

They were being counted now. The Captain and 
Shukhov were the last in line. 

The escort guards got worried and looked at the 
board they were checking off from. Somebody missing! 
It wasn’t the first time. If they could only count ! 

By their count it was four hundred and sixty-two, 
but they had an idea there ought to be four hundred 
and sixty-three. They pushed the men back from the 
gates (they’d crowded up to them again). And now 
it started all over : “Line up by fives ! One, two...!” 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

The worst thing about these recounts was it cut into 
your time, not theirs. And you still had to walk 
those two miles back to the camp and line up in front 
of the friskers before they let you in. So everybody 
from all the sites was in one hell of a hurry to get 
back and make it inside the camp before anybody else. 
The first ones inside had a head start— they were first 
in the mess hall, first to get their packages if they 
bad any, first into the kitchen to get the stuff they’d 
asked to have cooked in the morning, first to the 
CES to pick up letters from home, first to the censors 
to hand in a letter for mailing, first to the barbers, 
the medics, and the bathhouse— in fact, first every- 

And the escorts weren’t sorry to see the last of 
them and hand them over at the camp. It was no 
fun for them either. They had a lot to do and not 
much time for themselves. 

They’d gotten mixed up in the count again. 
Shukhov thought when they started letting them 
through by fives there’d be three in the last row, but 
no, it was two again. The fellows keeping count went 
up to the chief of the escort with their boards and 
talked it over. 

The chief shouted : “Boss of 104 !” 

Tyurin moved up half a step : “Here !” 

“Do you have anybody on at the power plant 
still ? Think !” 



One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

“Use your brains or I’ll beat ’em out.” 

“No, I say.” 

But he looked sideways at Pavlo. Maybe some- 
body’d fallen asleep in the power plant. 

“Line up by gangs !” the chief of the escort 
shouted. But they were standing by fives, all mixed 
up and not by gangs. Now they started shoving into 
each other and shouting : “Over here, 76 !” “Here 
I am, 13 !” “This way, 32 !” 

Gang 104 was right at the end of the line and they 
formed up there. Shukhov saw most of them had 
nothing in their hands. They’d been so busy they 
hadn’t picked up any piece of wood, the crazy bastards. 
Only two of them had small bundles. 

It was the same game every day. Before the signal 
to knock off the men picked up scraps of wood, 
sticks, and broken laths and tied them up with a piece 
of rag or worn-out rope to take back to camp. First 
they frisked you for it by the guardroom coming out 
— either the work-supervisor or a foreman. If one of 
them was standing there they told you to throw it on 
the ground (they’d already sent millions of rubles up 
the chimney and they thought they could make up 
for it with these splinters of wood). 

But what the prisoners figured was if every man 
from every gang brought just one little piece back 
with him, it’d be that much warmer in the barracks. 
Because the orderlies only brought in ten pounds of 
coal dust for each stove and you didn’t get much 
• warmth from that. So what they did was break these 
pieces up or saw them short as they could and stick 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

them under their coats. To get past the work- 

The escort guards never told you to throw this 
firewood down out here on the site. They needed 
firewood too, but they couldn’t carry it themselves. 
For one thing, they weren’t supposed to in uniform, 
and for another, they were holding their tommy guns 
with both hands to shoot at the prisoners if they had 
to. But once they got them back to camp it was 
a different story and they gave the order : “Row 
Such-and-Such to Row Such-and-Such, drop your 
wood here !” But they had a heart. They had to 
leave some for the warders and even some for the 
prisoners or there’d be none at all for anybody. 

So what happened was every prisoner carried 
wood every day but you never knew if you’d get it 
through or when they’d take it away from you. 

At the same time Shukhov was looking around 
the place to see if there was anything to pick up, the 
boss counted them all and said to the chief escort : 
“104 all here.” 

Caesar’d left the fellows in the office too and come 
over. You could see the red light from the pipe he 
was puffing away at and his mustache was all white 
with frost. He asked the Captain : “Well, how’re 
things. Captain ?” 

A guy who’s warm doesn’t know what it’s like to 
be frozen or he wouldn’t ask stupid questions like 

The Captain shrugged his shoulders and said : 
“How’re things, you say ? Well, I’ve broken my 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

back with work and I can hardly stand up straight.’* 

What he wanted to say was : “Don’t you see I 
want a smoke?” 

And Caesar gave him some tobacco. The Captain 
was the only man in the gang he tried to stay friends 
with. There was nobody else around he could have 
a heart-to-heart talk with now and then. 

Now everybody started shouting : “Man missing 
in 32! In 32!” 

The assistant gang boss from 32 and another fellow 
shot off to look in the repair shop. The men in the 
crowd were asking who it was and what it was all 
about. Shukhov heard it was that short dark Molda- 
vian. Which one of them did they mean? The one 
they said was a Romanian spy, a real one ? 

There were five spies in every gang. But it was 
all phony. It said they were spies in their records 
but it was just they’d been POW’s. Shukhov was 
that kind of spy. 

But the Moldavian was a real one. The chief of 
the escort looked at his list and his face turned black. 
If a spy’d gotten away he’d really be in for it. 
Shukhov and the whole crowd got mad too. Who 
did he think he was, this goddamn skunk, the son- 
ofabitch, the fucking bastard ! It was dark already 
and the moon was up, the stars were out, and the 
night cold was getting fiercer, and now this sonofa- 
bitch had to go and get lost. Was the working day 
too short for him, the fucker, with only eleven hours 
from dawn to sundown? Maybe the judge’d give him 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

a little more ! 

Even Shukhov thought it was funny for somebody 
to go on working like that and not hear the signal to 
knock off. 

He’d clean forgot how he’d kept on W'orking 
himself a little while back and gotten mad because 
people were going over to the guardroom too early, 
but now he was standing there freezing and bitching 
along with the others. And if that Moldavian kept 
them hanging around here another half-hour, he 
thought, and the escorts handed him over to the 
crowd, they’d tear the goddamn bastard to pieces 
like wolves. 

The cold was getting into them now. Nobody 
could stand still. They stomped their feet on the 
ground or edged back and forth. 

Some guys were asking if the Moldavian could’ve 
gotten away. If he’d beat it in the daytime it was 
one thing, but if he was hiding out now and waiting 
for the guards to leave the watchtowers he had an- 
other guess coming— they’d never leave without him. 
If there was no mark under the wires to show where 
he’d gotten away they’d search the compound for 
three days and keep the fellows up there on the 
watchtowers till they found him. For a whole week if 
need be. That was the rule and every old camp 
hand knew it. If anybody got out it was hell on the 
guards and they were kept on the go without food or 
sleep. It made ’em so mad they often didn’t bring 
the fellow back alive. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Caesar was telling the Captain : “Well, yoir 
remember that scene with those eyeglasses hanging up 
there on the rigging,* don’t you ?” 

“Mmmm ye-es,” the Captain said — he was smok- 
ing Caesar’s tobacco. 

“Or the scene with that baby carriage coming 
slowly, slowly down the steps ?” 

“But it gives you a cockeyed idea of life in the 

“But the trouble is we’re rather spoiled by modern 
close-up techniques.” 

“Yes, those maggots crawling in the meat were as 
big as earthworms. They couldn’t really have been 
that size, could they ?” 

“But you can’t do that sort of thing small-scale 
on film.” 

“If they brought that kind of meat to the camp, 
I can tell you, and put it in the caldron instead of 
that rotten fish we get, I bet we’d ...” 

The prisoners started screaming : “Yaaaaah !” 

They saw three shapes coming out of the repair 
shop. So they’d gotten the Moldavian. 

“Uuuuuh !” The crowd at the gates booed. 

And when they got a little closer : 

“Bastard, crock, shit-head, no-good sonofabitch !” 
And Shukhov joined in too. 

It was no joke robbing five hundred men of half 
an hour. 

•Translators’ note: The discussion that follows is about 
Eisenstein’s classic film Potemkin. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

The Moldavian came out with his head hanging 
down and he looked smaller than a mouse. 

“Halt !” one of the guards shouted and started 
writing in his book. “K-406, where’ve you been?” 

The sergeant came over to him and he was twist- 
ing the butt of his rifle. Some of the crowd went on 
yelling : “Crapbead, son of a whore, stinking bastard!” 
But some shut up when they saw the sergeant toying 
with his rifle. 

% The Moldavian stood there with his head down 
and said nothing. He sort of backed away from the 

The assistant boss of 32 camp up front and said : 
“The bastard was up there on the scaffold for the 
plasterers. He went up there to get away from me 
and he got warm and fell asleep.” And he rammed 
his first into the back of the fellow’s neck. He let him 
have it real good. That was just to get him clear of 
the guard. 

The Moldavian staggered and a Hungarian from 
32 shot over and kicked him in the ass. 

This was a lot tougher than spying. Any fool could 
be a spy. Spying was all right. It was a nice clean 
game and real fun, not like slaving away in a penal 
camp for ten years. 

The guard lowered his rifle and the chief of the 
escort bawled out : “Get away from those gates. Line 
up by fi-i-ves !” 

So they were going to do another count, the dirty 
dogs What was the point of making another count ? 
Everything was clear as it was. The prisoners groaned. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

They forgot about the Moldavian now and all their 
hate turned on the escorts. They wouldn’t back away 
from the gates. 

“What’s all this about?” the chief escort screamed. 
“D’you want to sit on your asses in the snow? That’s 
where 1*11 put you if you like and that’s where I’ll 
keep you till morning !” And he sure would. He 
wouldn’t think twice about it if he wanted. It’d happen- 
ed plenty of times before and sometimes they had to 
go down on their knees with the guards pointing their 
guns at the ready. The prisoners knew all about that 
sort of thing so they started backing away from the 
gates. “Get back ! Get back !” the guard shouted to 
get them moving quicker. 

“Yeah! Why’re you bunching up at the gates like 
that, bastards?” the fellows at the back shouted. They 
were sore at the ones up front. So what else could 
they do ? 

“Line up by fi-i-ves !” 

The moon was really shining bright. It wasn’t 
purple any more and it was way up by now. They’d 
lost their evening! That damn Moldavian, those 
damn guards. What a rotten lousy life ! 

The fellows up front were standing on their toes 
and looking back to see who’d been missed in the 
count and if the last row had two or three. Right 
; now their lives depended on it. 

‘ > It looked to Shukhov like there were four fellows 
in the back row. He got limp all over he was so 
scared. Now there was one too many so they’d start 
the count from scratch again. It was that scavenger 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Fetyukov who’d gotten out of his own line of five to 
scrounge the butt of the Captain’s cigarette and didn’t 
get back in time. So that’s why he was there looking 
sort of out of place. 

The second-in-charge of the escort gave him a 
clout on the neck. It was the best thing he ever did 
in his life. And now there were only three men back 
there. The number was right now, thank God. 

“Get away from the gates!” the guards yelled again. 

But the men didn’t grumble this time. They could 
see the soldiers coming out of the guardroom on the 
other side of the gate and ringing off the ground 

Which meant they were getting ready to let them 

There was no sign of the work-supervisor or his 
foremen — they were “free” workers. So they might 
get their firewood through this check. 

They opened the gates wide and the chief escort 
was standing outside by the wooden railings with 
another fellow who had to doublecheck. 

“First, second, third ... !” he yelled. 

If the count came out right this time they’d take 
the sentries off the watchtowers. 

They had a hell of a long way to walk back over 
the compound from those towers. And they didn’t 
phone and tell them to come down till the last pris- 
oner was out. If you got an escort chief with any 
brains he’d start marching you back to the camp 
right away because he knew the prisoners couldn’t 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

make a run for it now and the fellows from the 
watchtowers would catch up with them. But if the 
chief on duty was a [dope he always waited because 
he was scared he wouldn’t have enough men to deal 
with the prisoners. Today’s guy was that kind of 
blockhead, and he waited. 

The prisoners had been out in the cold all day 
and they were so frozen they were ready to drop. 

They’d been waiting around like this a whole hour 
now but it wasn’t so much the cold that got ’em. 
What really made them sore was the t hought of that 
lost evening. There’d be no time for all those things 
they w'anted to do back in camp. 

Somebody was asking the Captain in the row next 
to Shukhov : “How come you know so much about 
life in the British Navy?” 

“Well, you see, I spent a whole month almost on 
a British cruiser, had a cabin to myself there I was 
on convoys as a liaison officer. Then after the war 
some British admiral who should’ve had more sense 
sent me a little souvenir with an inscription that 
said : ‘In gratitude.’ I was really shocked and I 
cursed like hell, so now I’m inside with all the others. 
It is not much fun sitting here with this Bendera 

It looked sort of eerie all over, with the bare plain, 
the empty compound, and the moon gleaming on the 
snow. The guards had already gotten in place — ten 
paces away from .each other and their guns at the 
ready. There was this black herd of prisoners, and in 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

among them, in a black coat like everybody else, was 
that man, S-311, who’d worn golden shoulder straps 
in his time and been pals with a British admiral. And 
now he had to carry hods with Fetyukov. 

There’s nothing you can’t do to a man. . . . 

The escort was all ready and they skipped the 
“sermon” this time. 

“Forward march — and make it snappy !” 

The hell they’d make it snappy! They didn’t stand 
a chance of beating the other columns to camp, so 
they sure weren’t in any hurry. They all had the 
same idea and they didn’t have to tell each other. 
(“You’ve kept us waiting around all this time, so now 
let’s see how you like it. But you’re in a hurry to get 
warm too !”) 

“Get a move on,” the chief escort shouted. “Get 
a move on, front rank !” 

The hell they’d get a move on ! They trailed along 
with their eyes on the ground like they were on their 
way to a funeral. They didn’t have a thing to lose 
now. They’d be the last back in camp anyway. The 
guards hadn’t given them a square deal, so let ’em 
yell their heads off as much as they liked. 

The escort chief went on shouting at them for a 
while but he saw it was no use — they wouldn’t go 
any faster. But he couldn’t tell the guards to shoot 
at them for this — the prisoners were sticking to the 
law and marching in their column by lines of five. 
The escort chief didn’t have the right to make them 
go any faster. (In the mofaings that’s what saved 
their lives. They went out to the job real slow. Any- 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

body who went fast didn’t stand a chance to live out 
his time in the camp. That way you got too hot 
before you even started on the job and you wouldn’t 
last long.) 

So they took their own sweet time and all you 
could hear was the snow crunching under their boots. 
Some of them talked a little, but others didn't bother. 
Shukhov tried to think what it was had gone wrong 
in camp this morning. Then it came to him. The 
sick list ! Funny he’d forgot all about it at work. 

The medics would be seeing people about now. 
He could still make it if he skipped supper. But that 
pain was pretty much gone. He wasn’t even sure 
they’d bother to see if he had a fever. He’d just be 
wasting his time. He’d gotten over it without the 
quacks. Those guys could be the death of you. 

He forgot all about the medics now and started 
thinking how to get a little more for supper. What 
he hoped was Caesar might’ve gotten a new package 
from home. There hadn’t been one for quite a while 
and it was high time. 

But now all at once something happened in the 
column, like a wave going through it, and they all 
got out of step. The column sort of jerked forward 
and buzzed like a swarm of bees. The fellows in the 
back — that’s where Shukhov was — had to run now 
to keep up with the men out front. 

Shukhov could see what it was all about when the 
column cleared a rise they’d been passing. Way over 
on the plain there was another column heading for 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

the camp, right across their path. These fellows 
must’ve spotted them too and put a spurt on. 

This must be the fellows from the tool factory. 
There were about three hundred of them. So they’d 
had lousy luck too and been kept waiting around ! 
What had happened with them ? Sometimes they 
had to stay on to finish work on some machine or 
other. But it wasn’t so tough for them. They were 
inside all day and kept warm at least. 

Now they’d have to see who’d make it first. They 
started to run, and the guards ran with them. The 
escort chief was yelling: “No straggling back there ! 
Bunch up at the back !” 

Why the hell was he yelling? Didn’t he see they 
were doing just that ? 

Everybody forgot what they’d been talking or 
thinking about. There was only one thing they had 
their minds on now — get ahead of those other guys 
and beat ’em to it ! 

So everything was turned upside down. Every- 
thing was all mixed up now — bitter was sweet and 
sweet was bitter. Even the guards were with them. 
They were all in it together. The people they hated 
now were the guys over in that other column. 

They all felt better and they weren’t half as mad. 

“Come on, get going up there !” the fellows in 
back were shouting. 

Their column was now on one of the streets that 
led into the camp and they’d lost sight of the guys 
from the tool works behind a housing block on an- 
other street. But they were still racing each other. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Now they were in the street. The going was easier 
and it wasn’t so rough underfoot for the guards 
either. They were bound to beat those others to it ! 

Another reason they had to get in ahead of that 
bunch from the tool works — those guys got a real 
going-over from the friskers and took up the longest 
time at the guardroom of anybody. It all started with 
the killing of those stool pigeons — the higher-ups had 
gotten the idea it was the fellows in the tool works 
who’d made the knives and brought them in. That’s 
why they frisked them like they did before they let 
them through. Way back last fall the ground was 
getting cold by then — they started yelling at them 
every time : “Take your boots off, tool works ! Hold 
them up in your hands !” 

So they had to stand there in their bare feet for 
the frisk. And now, in the freezing cold, the guards 
made ’em take off just one of their boots and they 
pointed at the one they wanted. “Come on, take off 
your right boot! And you there, take off the left one !” 
So they bad to hop around on one leg and turn ’em 
upside down and shake out their foot-cloths to show 
they didn’t have a knife. Shukhov had heard — he 
didn’t know if it was true or not — these fellows from 
the tool works had brought in a couple of volley-ball 
posts in the summer and they’d hid all the knives in 
those posts— ten in each — and knives were still turn- 
ing up all over the place. 

They went past the new recreation hall on the 
double, past some houses and the carpentry shop. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

and turned a corner on the stretch that went up to 
the guardroom. The column let out a great roar like 
it was one man. This was just the spot they wanted 
to be, where the two streets came together. The 
fellows from the tool shop were way behind — five 
hundred yards down the road. They could let up 
now. Everybody in the column was on top of the 
world. It was like a bunch of scared rabbits gloating 
over another bunch of scared rabbits. 

Now they were back at the camp. It was the 
same as they’d left it in the morning — it was night 
then and it was night now. There were plenty of 
lights around the fence but it was nothing to what 
they had around the guardroom. The place the 
friskers were waiting for them was light as day. 

But before they could get there the second-in- 
charge of the escort yelled: “Halt !” He handed his 
gun to a soldier and ran up close to the column 
(they weren’t supposed to come too near the men 
with their guns). “All those on the right with fire- 
wood, throw it over here !” 

The fellows on the outside weren’t trying to hide 
it. Little bundles of firewood started flying through 
the air. Some of them tried to pass the stuff to men 
in the middle of the column. But these other guys 
yelled at them : “They’ll take it away from every- 
body else and all because of you ! Throw it over 
there like he tells you !” 

Who is the prisoner’s worst enemy? The guy 
next to him. If they didn’t fight each other, it’d be 
another story. . . 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

“Forward march !’’ the second-in-charge shouted. 
So they went over to the guardroom. 

Five streets came together at the guardroom. An 
hour before they’d all been crowded with the men 
coming in from the ; other sites. When all these 
streets were finished, the main square in the town 
they were building would be right here by the guard- 
room where they were going to frisk them. And the 
people who’d be coming to live in this new town 
would parade here on the big days, just like the 
prisoners were pouring in now. 

The warders were already at the guardroom 
warming themselves. They came out and stood 
across from the prisoners : “Open up your coats and 
jackets !” And they put their arms out sort of getting 
ready for the frisk. Same as in the morning. 

It wasn’t so bad opening up their clothes now. 
They were nearly home. 

That’s just what they said — “home.” You didn’t 
have any other home to think about when you were 
out there working. 

They were frisking the guys the front of the 
column now, and Shukhov went over to Caesar and 
said : “Caesar Markovich, when we’re through, I’ll 
go to the package room right away and hold a place 
for you in line.” 

Caesar turned around. The ends of his neat black 
mustache were all white with frost. Then Caesar 
said to him : “What is the point in that, Ivan 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Denisovich ? Suppose I don’t have any package?” 

“Maybe not, but what the hell ! I’ll hang around 
for ten minutes and if you don’t come I’ll go over 
to the barracks.” 

What Shukhov had at the back of his mind was — 
even it Caesar hadn’t gotten anything, he could sell 
his place in the line to some other guy 

It looked like Caesar wanted a package real bad. 
“Okay, Ivan Denisovich. Go over and get in line. 
But don’t wait more than ten minutes.” 

They were getting close to the friskers now. 
Shukhov had nothing to hid from them today and 
he didn’t worry. He took his time undoing his coat 
and the piece of rope around his jacket. 

And though he didn’t think he had anything on 
him he shouldn’t, his eight years in camps had made 
him careful. So he shoved his hand in the pocket on 
the knee of his pants to make sure it was empty. 

And there was the piece of steel he’d picked up 
on the site ! He’d only taken it so it wouldn’t go to 
waste and he didn’t mean to bring it back to the 

He didn’t mean to bring it back — but he had, and 
it’d be a great pity to throw it away. He could 
grind it down into a small knife for mending boots 
or making clothes. 

If he’d meant to smuggle it in he’d have found a 
good way to hide it. But there were only two rows 
of men in front of him at the friskers and the first 
five were there already. 

He had to think fast. He could throw it out in 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

the snow while he was still covered by the backs of 
the men in front (they’d find it later, but they’d never 
know where it came from) or he could try and get it 

If they found it on him and said it was a knife, 
he could get ten days in the can. 

But a knife like that could bring something in. It 
could mean more bread. He couldn’t stand throwing 
it away so he slipped it in one of his mittens. 

Now the row of five in front was ordered up to 
the friskers, so there were just three of them left 
out there under the bright light — Senka, Shukhov, 
and the young fellow from 32 who’d helped bring the 
Moldavian in. 

There were only three of them to five warders so 
Shukhov could play it smart and choose between 
the two on the right. He picked the old one with 
gray whiskers instead of the young one with the red 
cheeks. Of course the old man knew his stuff and 
would have no trouble finding it if he wanted, but 
the thing was he was old, so he must be fed up 
with his job. Then Shukhov took off both mittens, 
the one with the piece of steel and the other, and 
held them in one hand (he stuck the empty mitten 
out a little in front). He put the piece of rope he 
used for a belt in the same hand, opened his jacket 
wide, and lifted up the sides of his coat (he’d never 
put himself out for the friskers like this before but 
now he wanted to make ’em feel he had nothing to 
hide). He went up to the old man with the gray 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

The old man ran his hands over Shukhov’s back 
and sides and felt the pocket on his knee and the 
sides of his coat and jacket, but there was nothing 
there. To make sure before he let him go, he tried 
the mitten with nothing in it that Shukhov had stuck 
under his nose. Shukhov was in a sweat. If this 
warder did the same with the other one he’d wind 
up in the cooler with eight ounces of bread a day 
and hot food only every third day. He thought how 
weak and hungry he’d be there and how hard it 
would be to get back on his feet, lean and half-starved 
as he was. 

And he prayed hard as he could : “God in Heaven, 
help me and keep me out of the can !” All this went 
through his head when the warder felt the first mitten 
and then reached out for the one behind it (he’d 
have tried them both at once if Shukhov hadn’t held 
them in the same hand). But then the chief warder 
— he wanted to get the thing over with soon as he 
could — shouted to the guards : “Let’s have the fellows 
from the tool works.” 

So the old man with the gray whiskers didn’t 
bother with Shukhov’s other mitten and waved him 

Shukhov ran to catch up with the others. They 
were already lined up by fives between two long 
wooden rails — like the ones they hitch horses to in 
marketplaces. It made a kind of paddock. He felt 
like he was walking on air but he didn’t say a prayer 
of thanks because there wasn’t any time and there 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

was no sense in it now. 

The guards who’d brought there column in got 
out of the way to make room for the escorts who 
were marching the tool works in. They were waiting 
for their chief. They’d picked up all the firewood the 
column had thrown down before the frisk. The fire- 
wood the warders took was piled up by the guard- 

The moon was going up higher all the t ; me and 
the night cold was getting stronger. 

On his way to the guardroom to sign in the four 
hundred and sixty-three men the escort chief stopped 
and had a wood with Pryakha — this was Volkovoy’s 
deputy — and he shouted : “K-460 !” 

The Moldavian, who'd tried to keep out of sight 
In the middle of the column, gave a sigh and came 
up to the rail on the right. He still had his head 
down and his shoulders were all hunched up. 

“Over here !” Pryakha wanted him to come 
around the other side. 

The Moldavian went around. They told him to 
put his hands behind his back and wait there. 

So he was going to get it in the neck for “at- 
tempted escape.” They’d put him in the can. 

Two guards stood on the left and right of the 
paddock just in front of the gate. These gates were 
high as three men. They opened them up and then 
the order came: “Lineup by fi-i-ves !” (They didn’t 
have to tell you to get away {from the gate here be- 
cause the gates to the camp [always opened in so the 
prisoners couldn’t rush them and break them down.) 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 
“One, two, three...!*’ 

The prisoners were at their coldest and hungriest 
when they checked in through these gates in the even- 
ing, and their bow) of hot and watery soup without 
any fat was like rain in a drought. They gulped it 
down. They cared more for this bowlful than free- 
dom, or for their life in years gone by and years to 
come. They came back through the gates like soldiers 
from the wars with a lot of noise and cocky as hell. 
It was best to keep out of their way. 

The orderly from HQ got scared when he saw 
them come in. Now for the first time since roll call 
at six-thirty that morning the men were on their own. 
They went through the big outside gates, through 
the smaller one inside, across the yard through an- 
other pair of rails, and broke loose all over the 

All except the gang bosses, who were stopped by 
a work-controller : “Gang bosses, go to the PPS !” 

Shukhov raced past the punishment block and the 
barracks over to the package room and Caesar 
strolled over the other way where people were swarm- 
ing around a post with a plywood board nailed to it. 
The names of all the people with packages wert 
written up there with a pencil. 

They didn’t use much paper in the camps. They 
wrote mostly on these boards. Plywood lasted longer. 
The work-controllers and the screws used it when 
they counted heads. They could wipe it clean and 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

write on it again the next day. It was a great saving. 
There was always some scrounging to be done around 
this post by people who hadn’t been working outside. 
They’d find out from this board who'd gotten a 
package, go and meet the fellow at the gate, and tell 
him the number. You could pick up a cigarette or 
two like that. 

Shukhov ran up to the package room. It was a 
sort of lean-to with an entryway. The entryway had 
no door and the cold went right through it, but you 
were under cover so it wasn’t too bleak. 

Men were standing in a line all around the wall. 
Shukhov got in it too. There were fifteen fellows 
ahead of him so there’d be an hour’s wait and that’d 
take him up to lights out. If anybody else from his 
bunch had a package — he’d have to go and look at 
the list first — he’d be way behind Shukhov. So would 
all the fellows from the tool works. They might have 
to come back again early in the morning. They stood 
in line with little bags and sacks and things. Over 
inside, behind the door (Shukhov hadn’t gotten a 
package since he’d been in this camp, but he knew 
from what people said), a warder pried open the 
wooden box with your stuff in it, took it all out and 
went through it real careful. He cut things up, broke 
them in pieces, and gave them a good going-over. If 
it was anything liquid in a glass jar or a can they 
opened it and poured it out for you. AH you could 
do to try and catch it was cup your hands or get a 
bag under it. They didn’t hand cans or jars over to 
you. It made ’em kind of jumpy. If there was any 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

pastry or candy or something fancy like that, or any 
sausage or fish, the warder always bit off a hunk. 
(And it wasn’t worth while kicking up a fuss because 
then he’d say it was forbidden and you weren’t sup- 
posed to have it.) Anybody who got a package had 
to give handouts all along the line, starting with the 
warder. And when they were through poking around 
in your package they wouldn’t let you have the box 
— you had to stuff it all into a bag or into the lining 
of your coat. Then they kicked you out and called 
the next fellow. They sometimes hustled you so much 
you left something behind on the counter. And it 
was no use coming back for it. It wouldn’t be there 
any more. 

Back in the Ust-Izhma days Shukhov had gotten 
packages a couple of times. But he wrote to his wife 
and told her not to send any more because there 
wasn’t much left by the time it reached him. Better 
keep it for the kids. Though it was easier for Shukhov 
to feed his whole family back home than it was just 
to keep himself alive in the camp, he knew the price 
they paid for these packages and he knew he couldn’t 
go on taking the bread out of their mouth for ten 
years. So he’d rather do without. 

All the same every time anybody in his gang or 
in his part of the barracks got a package— and this 
was nearly every day — he felt a kind of pang inside 
because it wasn’t him. And though he told his wife 
she must never send him anything, even for Easter, 
and he never went to that post with the list on it — 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

unless it was to take a look for some other guy who 
was well off — still he sometimes had the crazy idea 
somebody might run up to him one day and say : 
“Shukhov, what are you waiting for? You’ve got a 
package !” 

But nobody ever did, and he thought about his 
home village of Temgenyovo and the wooden shack 
where they lived. Here he was on the go from rev- 
eille to lights out and there was no time for day- 
dreaming. He was standing in line with these people 
who were keeping their bellies happy with the hope 
they’d soon be sinking their teeth into a chunk of 
fatback, eating their bread with butter, and sweetening 
their tea with sugar. But Shukhov had only one thing 
to hope for — he might still make it to the mess hall 
with the rest of his gang in time to eat his gruel 
before it got cold. It didn’t do you half as much 
good if it was cold. He figured if Caesar’s name 
wasn’t on the list he’d be back in the barracks by 
now and getting cleaned up. But if Caesar’s name 
was on it he’d now be getting together bags and 
plastic mugs to put the stuff in. That’s why Shukhov 
said he’d wait ten minutes — just to give him time. 

Shukhov picked up some news from the fellows 
in the line. There wasn’t going to be any Sunday 
again this week. They were going to be swindled out 
of it. That was nothing new, they’d known it all 
along — if there were five Sundays in the month, they 
let you off on three and chased you out to work on. 
the other two. He knew this — but when he heard it. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

he felt sick all over and it turned his stomach. You 
couldn’t help feeling bad about losing your Sunday. 
Though it was right what the fellows were saying 
in the line. Even if you got Sunday off, they still 
found jobs for you to do around the camp — putting 
up a new bathhouse or building a new wall to keep 
you from getting through somewhere, or clearing up 
the yard. Then there was always airing the mattresses 
and shaking them out or delousing the bunks. Or 
they’d have an “identity parade” to check your pass 
against your picture. Or they’d say it was time for 
stock-taking and you had to spread all your junk out 
in the yard and they kept you hanging around there 
half the day. 

The thing that really got’em was if the prisoners 
slept after breakfast. 

The line wasn’t moving very fast. Three fellows 
— a camp barber, a bookkeeper, and one of the guys 
from the CES — pushed up front, and they weren’t 
too polite about it either. These weren’t just poor 
slobs like the rest but high and mighty trusties and 
the biggest bastards in the camp. To the men’s way 
of thinking they were worse than shit, and they didn’t 
have much use for the men either. There was no 
sense talking back to them. They all stuck together 
and they were in good with the warders. 

There were ten fellows ahead of Shukhov and 
seven more in back of him. Now Caesar came along. 
He had to duck down to get in through the doorway 
in the new fur cap he’d gotten from home. (That was 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

another thing, these hats. Caesar had given a bribe to 
somebody in the right place so they let him keep this 
fancy new cap, the sort they wore in the big cities. 
But others who’d been brought in with their service 
caps, straight from the front, had them taken away 
and got the plain pigskin caps they gave you in the 

Caesar shot a smile at Shukhov and started 
talking right away with some crazy guy in glasses 
who was reading a newspaper in the line. “Glad to 
see you, Pyotr Mikhailovich, old man”. And they 
glowed at each other like a couple of poppies. 

The nut with the glasses said : “Look, I’ve just 
gotten an Evening News fresh from Moscow. It came 
in the mail.” 

“You don’t say !” And Caesar stuck his nose in 
the newspaper too. (There wasn’t much light from 
the bulb on the ceiling. How the hell could they read 
those tiny letters!) “There is a most interesting arti- 
cle here on the opening night of the new Zavadsky.”* 

These fellows from Moscow can smell each other 
a long way off and when they get together they kind 
of sniff at each other like dogs. And they jabber away 
real fast to see who can say the most words. You 
didn’t hear many real Russian words in all this talk. 
They might just as well have been Latvians or 

But Caesar hadn’t forgot all his little bags and 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

“Caesar Markovich, is it all right if I go now ?” 
Shukhov asked through that gap in his teeth. 

“Of course, of course.” Caesar lifted his black 
mustache up from the paper. “But tell me now, 
who’s in front of me and who’s behind me in the 
line?” Shukhov told him where his place was. 

And he didn’t wait for Caesar to think of it 
himself but asked him about his supper. “Want me to 
bring you your supper ?” (This meant he’d have to 
carry it from the mess hall to the barracks in a can. 
You weren’t supposed to. They were very strict about 
this and kept bringing out rules against it. If they 
caught you they poured the stuff out on the ground 
and dragged you off to the cooler. The men went 
on doing it all the same because anybody who had 
something to do before supper could never make it 
on time to the mess hall with his gang.) 

When he asked about bringing Caesar’s supper 
over, he was thinking : “You’re not going to be 
stingy now, are you, and not let me have your sup- 
per ?” They didn’t get any mush for supper but only 
thin gruel. 

“No, no,” Caesar smiled. “You eat it yourself.” 

That was all Shukhov was waiting for. He tore 
out of the package room like a bat out of hell and 
chased across the compound. There were prisoners 
wandering around all over the place. One time the 
Commandant had given an order that prisoners 
couldn’t walk around by themselves but had to be 
marched everywhere by gangs — except to the medics 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

or the latrines, where they couldn’t take them all to- 
gether. They made up squads of four or five men and 
put one of them in charge to march them wherever 
they had to go, wait for them there, and march them 

There’d been a Commandant who was strict as 
hell about this order and nobody liked to cross him 
The warders jumped on anybody going around by 
himself and put 'em in the cells. But the whole thing 
broke down. It didn’t happen all at once, it sort of 
faded out little by little like a lot of these high-sound- 
ing orders. Suppose the screws called you out, well, 
you couldn’t go along with a whole bunch. Or you 
had to go and pick something up in the stores, well, 
there wasn’t much in it for the other fellows to come 
along with, you. Or some guy who got it in his head 
to go over to the CES and read the newspapers, who 
the hell did he think’d go along with him ? And then 
there were fellows going over to get their felt boots 
repaired or their things dried out. And then those who 
just wanted to go from their own barracks to the next 
one^(this was the thing they were real tough on but 
it wasn’t so easy to stop it). 

That pot-bellied bastard of a Commandant had 
made this order to take their last bit of freedom 
away, but it didn’t work out like that. 

On his way back Shukhov ran into a warder, 
took his cap off just to be on the safe side, and ducked 
into his barracks. There was one hell of a racket inside 
— somebody’s bread ration had been pinched while 
they were all out at work and everybody was shout- 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

ing at the orderlies, and the orderlies were shouting 
back. There was nobody from 104 there. 

Shukhov always figured they were in luck if they 
got back to camp and the mattresses hadn’t been 
turned inside out while they were gone. 

He ran to his bunk and started taking his coat off 
on the way. He threw it up on top and his mittens 
with the piece of steel too and felt inside his mattress. 
That hunk of bread was still there ! Good thing he’d 
sewed it in. 

So he dashed out again and went to the mess hall. 

He slipped across and didn’t run into a single 
warder — -just men coming back and quarreling about 
the rations. 

The moonlight in the yard was getting more and 
more bright. The lights in the camp looked dim and 
there were black shadows from the barracks. There 
were four big steps up to the mess hall and they were 
in the shadow too. There was a little bulb over the 
door and it was swinging and creaking in the freezing 
cold. And there was a kind of rainbow around all 
the lights but it was hard to say if this was from the 
frost or because they were so dirty. 

And the Commandant had another strict rule — 
each gang had to march up to the mess hall two by 
two. Then the order was — when they got to the steps 
they had to line up again by fives and stand there till 
the mess-hall orderly let them up. 

This was Clubfoot’s job and he wouldn’t let go of 
it for anything in the world. With that limp of his 
he’d gotten himself classed as an invalid, the bastard. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

but there really wasn’t a thing wrong with him. He 
had a stick cut from a birch tree and he lashed out 
with it from the top of the steps if anybody tried to 
go up before he gave the word. But he was careful 
who he hit. Clubfoot was sharp-eyed as they come 
and he could spot you in the dark from behind. He 
never went for anybody who could hit back and let 
him have it in the puss. He only beat a fellow when 
he was down. He’d let Shukhov have it once. 

And this was the kind they called “orderlies,” but 
if you thought about it they didn’t take orders from 
anybody. And they were in cahoots with the cook. 

Today a lot of gangs must have crowded up at 
the same time or maybe they were having trouble 
keeping order. The men were all over the steps. 
There were three of them up there — Clubfoot, the 
trusty who worked under him, and even the fellow in 
charge of the mess hall, big as life — and they were 
trying to handle things on their own, the crapheads. 

The manager of the mess hall was a fat bastard 
with a head like a pumpkin and shoulders a yard 
wide. He had so much strength he didn’t know what 
to do with it and he bounced up and down like on 
springs and his hands and legs jerked all the time. 
His cap was made of white fur soft as down and he 
didn’t have a number on it. There weren’t many 
people “outside” with a cap like that. He had a 
lamb’s-wool jacket and there was a number on it the 
size of a postage stamp — just big enough to keep Vol- 
kovoy happy — but he didn’t have a number on his 
back. He didn’t give a damn for anybody and all the 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

men were scared of him. He had a thousand lives in 
the palm of his hand. Once they’d tried to beat him 
up but the cooks all rushed out to help him. And a 
choice bunch of ugly fat-faced bastards they were 

Shukhov would be in trouble if 104 had gone in 
already. Clubfoot knew everybody in camp by sight, 
and when the manager was there he never let any- 
body through if he wasn’t with his own gang. Just 
for the hell of it. The fellows sometimes climbed the 
rails going up the steps and got in behind Clubfoot’s 
back. Shukhov had done this too. But you couldn’t 
get away with it when the manager was there. He’d 
knock you all the way from here to the hospital block. 

Shukhov had to get over to the steps fast as he 
could and see if 104 was still here — everybody looked 
the same at night in their black coats. But there were 
so many of them milling around now like they were 
storming a fortress (what could they do, it was 
getting close to lights out ?) and they pushed their 
way up those four steps and crowded at the top. 

“Stop, you fucking sonsofbitches !” Clubfoot 
yelled, and hit out at them with his stick. “Get back, 
or I’ll bash your heads in !” 

“What can we do ?” those up front yelled. 
“They’re pushing from the back !” 

And it was true, the pushing came from the back 
but the fellows in front weren’t really trying to hold 
them back. They wanted to break through to the- 
mess hall. Then Clubfoot held his stick across his 
chest to make a kind of barrier. And he threw all 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

his weight behind it. His trusty got his hand on the 
stick too and helped him push. Even the manager 
didn’t worry about getting his precious hands dirty 
and took hold of the stick. 

They shoved real hard. They had plenty of strength 
with all that meat they ate. Those up front were 
pushed back and fell on the men behind. They went 
down like tenpins. 

“Fuck you, Clubfoot !” some of the guys in the 
crowd shouted. But they made sure they weren’t seen. 
The others kept their mouth shut and just scrambled 
to their feet fastso’s not to get trampled on. And they 
got the steps cleared. 

The manager went back inside and Clubfoot stood 
on the top step and shouted: “How many times do I 
have to tell you to line up by fives, you block-heads ! 
I’ll let you in when we’re good and ready.” 

Shukhov thought he saw Senka Klevshin’s head 
way up front. He was real glad and started pushing 
his way through fast. But the men were jammed 
tight and he couldn’t make it. 

“Hey, 27!” Clubfoot shouted. “Get moving!” 
Gang 27 ran up the steps and inside on the double. 
The rest rushed the steps again and the men in back 
pushed hard. Shukhov pushed for all he was worth 
too. The steps were shaking and the bulb over the 
doorway was making a sort of creaking noise. 

“Won’t you ever learn, you scum?” Clubfoot was 
mad as hell. He hit a couple of the fellows on the 
back and shoulders with his stick and pushed them 
over on the others. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

He cleared the steps again. 

Shukhov could see Pavlo go up the steps to 
Clubfoot. Pavlo’d taken charge of the gang because 
Tyurin didn’t like to get mixed up in this kind of 

“Line up by fives, 104!” Pavlo shouted from up 
there. “Let ’em through, you guys up front !” 

The hell they’d let ’em through! 

“Hey there, let me through ! That’s my gang !” 
Shukhov grabbed hold of the man in front of him. 
The fellow would have been glad to get out of the 
way but he was wedged in there too. 

The crowd weaved from side to side. They were 
really killing themselves to get that gruel they had 

So Shukhov tried another tack. He clutched the 
rail going up the steps on the left, pulled himself up 
by his arms, and swung through to the other side. 
He hit somebody on the knee with his feet. They 
kicked back at him and called him every name they 
could think of. But he’d made it. He stood on the 
top step and waited there. The other fellows from his 
gang saw him and stuck out their hands. 

The manager looked out from the door and Said 
to Clubfoot: “Let’s have another two gangs.” 

“104!” Clubfoot yelled. “And where d’you think 
you’re going, you bastard!” he said to a fellow from 
another gang and hit him on the neck with his stick. 

“104!” Pavlo shouted after him and started let- 
ting his own men through. 

Shukhov ran in the mess hall and — he didn’t wait 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

for Pavlo to tell him — started to pick up empty trays. 
The mess hall looked the same as ever— great clouds 
-of steam, and men jammed tight at the tables like corn 
on a cob or wandering around and trying to push 
through with trays full of bowls. But Shukhov had 
gotten used to this in all his years in the camps. He 
had a sharp eye and right away spotted S-208 carry- 
ing a tray with only five bowls on it for one of the 
other gangs. The tray wasn’t full so it meant this 
was the last time he’d need it. 

Shukhov got over to him and said in his ear from 
behind: “Gimme that tray when you’re through, 

“But there’s another guy over at the hatch waiting 
for it.” 

“Let the bastard wait. He should have been shar- 

So they made a deal — S-208 put his bowls on the 
table and Shukhov snatched the tray. But the other 
guy ran over and grabbed it by the end. He was 
smaller than Shukhov. So Shukhov shoved it at him 
and sent him flying against one of the posts holding 
up the roof. He put the tray under his arm and 
^dashed over to the hatch. Pavlo was standing in line 
and he was sore because there were no trays. He 
was glad to see Shukhov. The assistant gang boss of 
27 was just in front of Pavlo at the head of the line. 
Pavlo gave him a shove. 

“Get outa the way ! Don’t hold things up ! I’ve 
.got trays!” Gopchik the little rascal was lugging one 
over too. He was laughing. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

“I grabbed it while some other guys weren’t look- 

Gopchik would go a’ long way in the camp and 
make a real old hand. He needed a couple more years 
to learn all the tricks and grow up and then he’d 
have it made — like cutting the bread rations in the 
stores. Or even a bigger job. 

Pavlo told Yermolayev to take the other tray — 
Yermolayev was a big Siberian and he’d gotten 
ten years for being a POW too— and sent Gopchik 
to lookout for places. Shukhov pushed his tray side- 
ways through a hatch and waited. 

“104!” Pavlo called into the hatch. There were 
five of these hatches — three for dishing out the 
food, one for men on the sick list (there were ten 
men with ulcers who got special food, and all the 
bookkeepers had wangled this diet for themselves 
too), and the fifth for handing back the bowls. Here 
the men fought to see who’d get to lick ’em out. 
These hatches weren’t very high up — a little above 
your waist. All you could see through them was 
hands with ladles. 

The cook had soft white hands but they were 
damn big and had hair all over them, more like a 
boxer’s than a cook’s. He picked up a pencil and 
checked off from his list on the wall: “104 — twenty- 
four!” Panteleyev was here too. Like hell he’d been 
sick, that sonofabitch! 

The cook picked up a great big ladle and stirred 
the stuff in the caldron — it’d just been filled nearly 
up to the top. There were clouds of steam coming 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

out of it. Then he picked up another ladle that held 
one and a half pints— enough for four bowls — and 
began to dish out. But he didn’t dip down very deep. 
“One, two, three, four . . Shukhov watched to see 
which bowls he filled before the good part settled 
back on the bottom of the caldron and which had 
only the watery stuff off the top. He put ten bowls 
on the tray and went away. Gopchik was waving at 
him from a place by the second pair of posts. “This 
way, Ivan Denisovich, over here!” 

You had to be careful carrying these bowls. Shu- 
khov watched his step, sort of gliding along so as not 
to jolt them, and kept shouting all the time: “Hey 
you, K-920, look where you’re going . . . ! Get out of 
the way, fellow . . . !” 

It was tough enough carrying one bowl in that 
crowd without spilling it, never mind ten. But he got 
them over to the end of the table Gopchik had cleared 
off, put the tray down on it real gentle, and didn’t 
spill a drop. And he managed to place it so the two 
best bowls would be on the side he was going to sit 

Yermolayev brought over another ten. And then 
Gopchik ran back to the hatch and came back with 
Pavlo. They were carrying the last four in their 

Kilgas brought their bread ration on another tray. 
Today the ration was according to output. Some got 
six ounces, others eight. Shukhov got ten. He took 
his ten (it had a lot of good crust on it) and Caesar’s 
six— from the middle of the loaf. Now the men in 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

their gang were coming from all over the mess hall 
to get their supper. It was up to them to find a place 
to sit down and eat it. Shukhov handed out the bowls 
and kept an eye on who’d gotten one, and guarded 
his corner of the tray. He put his spoon in one of the 
two good bowls to stake a claim. Fetyukov took his 
bowl — he was one of the first — and went off. He 
figured there wouldn’t be good pickings in his own 
gang and it’d be better to snoop around the mess 
hall and scavenge — there might be somebody who’d 
left something. Anytime a guy didn’t finish his gruel 
and pushed the bowls away, others swooped down on 
it like vultures and tried to grab it — a whole bunch 
of them sometimes. 

Shukhov checked over the helpings with Pavlo 
and everything looked all right. He pushed one of 
the good bowls to Pavlo for Tyurin. Pavlo poured it 
in a flat German army canteen — it was easy to carry 
it pressed close to his chest under his coat. 

They gave up their trays to some other fellows. 
Pavlo sat down to his double helping, and so did 
Shukhov. They didn’t say another word to each 
other. These minutes were holy. 

Shukhov took off his cap and put it on his knee. 
He dipped his spoon in both his bowls to see what 
they were like. It wasn’t bad. He found a little bit 
of fish even. The gruel was always thinner than in 
the morning — they had to feed you in the morning 
so you’d work, but in the evening they knew you just 
flopped down and went to sleep. 

He began to eat. He started with the watery 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

stuff on the top and drank it right down. The 
warmth went through his body and his insides were 
sort of quivering waiting for that gruel to come 
down. It was great ! This was what a prisoner 
lived for, this one little moment. 

Shukhov didn’t have a grudge in the world now — 
about how long his sentence was, about how long 
their day was, about that Sunday they wouldn’t get. 
All he thought now was : “Well get through ! We’ll 
get through it all ! And God grant it’ll all come to 
an end.” 

He drank the watery stuff on the top of the other 
bowl, poured what was left into the first bowl and 
scraped it clean with his spoon. It made things easier. 
He didn’t have to worry about the second bowl or 
keep an eye on it and guard it with his hands. 

So he could let his eyes wander a little and look 
at other bowls around him. The fellow on the left 
had nothing but water. The way these bastards in 
the kitchen treated a man ! You’d never think they 
were just prisoners too ! 

Shukhov started to pick out the cabbage in his 
bowl. There was only one piece of potato and that 
turned up in the bowl he got from Caesar. It 
wasn’t much of a potato. It was frostbitten of 
course, a little hard and on the sweet side. And there 
was hardly any fish, just a piece of bone here and 
there without any flesh, on it. But every little fish- 
bone and every piece of fin had to be sucked to get 
all the juice out of it — it was good for you. All this- 
took time but Shukhov was in no burry now. £ He’d 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

had a real good day — -he’d managed to get an extra 
helping at noon and for supper too. So he could 
skip everything else he wanted to do that evening. 
Nothing else mattered now. 

The only thing was he ought to go see the 
Latvian to get some tobacco. There might not be 
any left by morning. 

Shukhov ate his supper without bread — a double 
portion and bread on top of it would be too rich. 
So he’d save the bread. You get no thanks from 
your belly — it always forgets what you've just done 
for it and comes begging again the next day. 

Shukhov was finishing his gruel and hadn’t really 
bothered to take in who was sitting around him. He 
didn’t have to because he’d eaten his own good share 
of gruel and wasn’t on the lookout for anybody 

But all the same he couldn’t help seeing a tall old 
man, Y-81, sit down on the other side of the table 
when somebody got up. Shukhov knew he was from 
Gang 64, and in the line at the package room he’d 
heard it was 64 that had gone to the Socialist 
Community Development today in place of 104. 
They’d been there all day out in the cold putting up 
barbed wire to make a compound for themselves. 

Shukhov had been told that this old man’d been 
in camps and prisons more years than you could 
count and had never come under any amnesty. 
When one ten-year stretch was over they slapped on 
another. Shukhov took a good look at him close up. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

In the camp you could pick him out among all the 
men with their bent backs because he was straight as 
a ramrod. When he sat at the table it looked like 
he was sitting on something to raise himself up 
higher. There hadn’t been anything to shave off his 
head for a long time — he’d lost all his hair because 
of the good life. His eyes didn’t shift around the 
mess hall all the time to see what was going on, and 
he was staring over Shukhov’s head and looking at 
something nobody else could see. He ate his thin 
gruel with a worn old wooden spoon, and he took 
his time. He didn’t bend down low over the bowl 
like all the others did, but brought the spoon up to 
his mouth. He didn’t have a single tooth either top 
or bottom — he chewed the bread with his hard gums 
like they were teeth. His face was all worn-out but 
not like a “goner’s” — it was dark and looked like 
it had been hewed out of stone. And you could tell 
from his big rough hands with the dirt worked in 
them he hadn’t spent many of his Jong years doing 
any of the soft jobs. You could see his mind was set 
on one thing— never to give in. He didn’t put his 
eight ounces in all the filth on the table like every- 
body else but laid it on a clean little piece of rag 
that’d been washed over and over again. 

But Shukhov couldn’t spend any more time look- 
ing at the old man. When he finished eating he 
licked his spoon and pushed it in the top of his 
boot. He jammed his cap on his head, got up, took 
his own bread ration and Caesar’s, and went out. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

You had to leave through another door. There were 
a couple of orderlies standing there. They had noth-, 
ing else to do but unlock the door to let people out 
and then close it after them. 

Shukhov came out with a full belly and he felt 
good. He thought he might look in on the Latvian, 
though there wasn’t much time to go before lights 
out. So he headed for Barracks 7 and didn’t stop off 
at his own barracks to leave the bread there. 

The moon was way up now. It was all white and 
clear and looked like it had been cut out of ? the sky. 
And the sky was clear too and the stars were as 
bright as could be. The last thing he had time for 
now was looking at the sky. But he saw one thing — 
the [cold wasn’t letting up. Some of the fellows had 
heard from the .“free” workers outside that it’d go 
down to twenty in the night and forty by morning. 

From somewhere outside the camp he could hear 
the noise of a tractor, and a bulldozer was grinding 
away on the new road they were building. And every 
time anybody walked or ran through the camp you 
could hear the crunch of their felt boots in the snow. 

There was no wind. 

Shukhov would have to pay the same as always 
for the tobacco — one ruble a mug, though “outside” 
it cost three rubles, and even more for the better 
stuff. Prices in the camp were not like anywhere else 
because you couldn’t have money here. Not many 
people had any and it was very expensive. In the 
“Special” camps they didn’t pay you a penny (but in 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Ust-Izhma Shukhov got thirty rubles a month). And 
if you got any money from home they didn’t hand it 
over to you but put it in an account in your own 
name, and once a month you could spend something 
out of this account in the stores for fancy soap, 
moldy cookies, and “Prima” cigarettes. And you had 
to write to the Commandant beforehand and tell him 
what you wanted to buy, and if you didn’t like the 
stuff you could either take it or leave it, and if you 
didn’t take it you could say good-by to your money 
anyway — they’d already taken it out of your account. 
Shukhov got his money by doing odd jobs— making 
slippers (for two rubles) out of the rags the customer 
gave you or patching up a jacket (you named the 
price for the job). 

Barracks 7 was not like 9, where he was. His had 
two big halves, but 7 had a long passageway with 
ten doors off it, and each gang had a room to itself, 
seven bunks to a room. And each gang had its own 
latrine and the guy in charge of the barracks had his 
own cubicle. The artists lived here in their own cubi- 
cles too. 

Shukhov went into the part where the Latvian 
was. He was lying on a lower bunk with his feet up 
on the ledge and he was jabbering in Latvian with 
the fellow next to him. Shukhov sat down on the 
edge of the bunk and said hello, and the Latvian said 
hello but didn’t take his legs down. In small rooms 
like these the men pricked up their ears to see who’d 
come and what he was after. They both knew this. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

That’s why Shukhov sat there talking about nothing 
very much. (How’re things?” “Not bad.” “Very 
cold today.” “Yes”.) 

Shukhov waited till the others got back to their 
talk — about the war in Korea. They were arguing 
whether their’d be a world war or not now the Chinese 
had come in. 

And then he leaned close to the Latvian : “Got 
any tobacco?” 


“Lemme see.” 

The Latvian took his feet off the ledge, dropped 
them on the floor, and sat up. He was real tightfisted, 
this Latvian, and when he put the stuff in the plastic 
mug he was always scared he’d give you one smoke 
more than you paid for. 

He showed Shukhov his pouch and opened it up. 

Shukhov took a little tobacco and put it on his 
hand. He saw it was the same as last time, the same 
brownish colour and the same cut. He held it to his 
nose and smelled it. Yes, it was the same stuff, but 
what he said to the Latvian was : “Don’t look the 
same to me.” 

“Yes it is.” The Latvian got mad. “I always have 
the same. It is always the same.” 

“Okay,” Shukhov said. “Pack that mug for me 
and I’ll have a smoke out of it, and then maybe I’ll 
take another mug.” 

He said “pack” because this fellow always 
sprinkled it in sort of loose. 

The Latvian got another pouch from under his 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

pillow — it was fatter than the other one. And he took 
his mug out of the locker. This mug was made of 
plastic but Shukhov knew just how much it’d hold 
and that it was as good as something made of glass. 
And the Latvian started filling it. 

“Press it down now, press it down !” And Shukhov 
poked his finger in to show him how 

“I know how, I know how.” The Latvian got mad 
again and pulled the mug away and pressed down 
himself — but not so hard. Then be went on filling it 

Meantime Shukhov opened his jacket and found 
the place in the wadded lining where he kept his two- 
ruble bill. He eased it along through the wadding till 
he got to a little hole he’d made in another place and 
sewed up with two stitches. He pushed the bill this 
far, pulled out the stitches with his nails, folded the 
bill lengthways, and took it out of the hole. It was 
old and limp and didn’t rustle any more. 

Somebody in the room was yelling : “You think 
that old bastard in Moscow with the mustache is 
going to have mercy on you ? He wouldn’t give a 
damn about his own brother, never mind slobs like 
you !” 

The great thing about a penal camp was you had 
a hell of a lot of freedom. Back in Ust-Izhma if you 
said they couldn’t get matches “outside” they put you 
in the can and slapped on another ten years. But 
here you could yell your head off about anything 
you liked and the squealers didn’t even bother to 
tell on you. The security fellows couldn’t care less. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

The only trouble was you didn’t have much time? 
to talk about anything. 

“Hey, you’re putting it in loose,” Shukhov grum- 

“All right, all right.” And the Latvian put a little 
more on top. 

Shukhov took his own pouch out of the inside 
pocket he'd sewed himself and emptied the mugful 
of tobacco into it. 

“Okay,” he said. “Give me another mugful.” He 
didn’t bother about trying it out beforehand because 
he didn’t want to have his first sweet smoke in a 

He haggled a little more with the Latvian and 
emptied another mugful into his pouch. He handed 
over his two rubles, nodded to the Latvian, and left. 
Then he chased back to his own barracks so he 
wouldn’t miss Casear when he came back with that 

But Caesar was already sitting in his lower bunk 
and gapping at the stuff. He’d spread it all out on his 
bed and on the locker, but it was a little dark because 
the light from the bulb on the ceiling was cut off by 
Shukhov’s bunk. Shukhov bent down, got between 
the Captain’s bunk and Caesar’s, and handed over 
the bread ration. “Your bread, Caesar Markovich.” 

He didn’t say, “So you got it,” because this 
would’ve been hinting about how he stood in line 
for him and that he had a right to a cut. He know 
he had, but even after eight years of hard labor her 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

~was still no scavenger and the more time went on, 
the more he stuck to his guns. 

But he wasn’t master of his eyes. Like all the 
others he had the eyes of a hawk, and in a flash 
they ran over the things Caesar had laid out on the 
bed and the locker. But though he still hadn’t taken 
the paper off them or opened the bags, Shukhov 
couldn’t help telling by this quick look — and a sniff 
of the nose— that Caesar had gotten sausage, canned 
milk, a large smoked fish, fatback, crackers with one 
kind of smell and cookies with another, and about 
four pounds of lump [sugar. And then there was 
butter, cigarettes, and pipe tobacco. And that wasn’t 
the end of it. 

Shukhov saw all this in the time it took him to 
say “Your bread, Caesar Markovich.” 

Caesar was in a real state like he was drunk’ 
{people who got packages were always like this) 
and he waved the bread away. “You keep it, Ivan 
Denisovich.” Caesar’s gruel and now his six ounces 
of bread — that was a whole extra supper — and this 
•of course, was as much as he could hope to make on 
that package. And he stopped thinking right away 
that he might get any of this fancy stuff and he shut 
it out of his mind. It was no good aggravating your 
■belly for nothing. He had his own ten ounces of 
bread and now this ration of Caesar’s and then there 
’was that hunk of bread in the mattress. That was 
more than enough ! He’d eat Caesar’s right away, get 
another pound in the morning, and he’d take some 
off to work with him. That was the way to live ! And 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

he’d leave that old ration where it was in the mattress 
for the time being. Good thing he’d sewed it in— look 
how that fellow from 75 had his stolen out of the 
locker, and there wasn’t a thing you could do about 

Some people thought anybody who got packages 
was well off and fair game, but when you really 
got down to it, it was gone in no time. And just 
before a new package came in they were only too 
glad to pick up an extra bowl of mush and they 
went around cadging butts. The guy with the pack- 
age had to give something to his warder, his gang 
boss, and the trusty in his barracks. They often lost 
your package and it didn’t come up in the list for 
weeks. When you took it to the storeroom for safe- 
keeping against thieves and on the Commandant’s 
orders — Caesar would be taking his there before roll 
call in the morning — you had to give the guy in charge 
there a good cut or he’d nibble his way through it. 
How could you keep a check on that rat sitting there 
all day with other people’s food ? Then you had to 
pay off people who’d helped you get it, like Shuk- 
khov. And if you wanted the guy in the wash house 
to give you back your own underwear from the 
wash, you had to let him have a little something 
too. Then there were those two or three cigarettes 
for the barber so he’d wipe the razor on a piece of 
paper and not on your bare knee. And what about 
the guys in the CES so they’d put your letters aside 
for you and not lose ’em ? Suppose you wanted to- 
wangle a day off and lie around in bed? You 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

couldn’t go to the doctor with empty hands. And you 
had to give something to the fellow next to you in 
the bunk who shared your locker, like the Captain 
shared Caesar’s. He’d count every little piece 'you 
put in your mouth, and even the biggest heel couldn’t 
get out of giving him something. 

Some fellows always thought the grass was greener 
on the other side of the fence. Let them envy other 
people if they wanted to, but Shukhov knew what 
life was about. And he was not the kind who 
thought anybody owed him a living. 

He took his boots off and climbed up to his bunk. 
He got that piece of steel out of his mitten and had 
a good look at it. He figured he’d look for. the right 
kind of stone tomorrow to grind it down for a knife 
he could use to mend shoes. And in four or five days, 
if he worked at it a little mornings and nights, he’d 
make himself a pretty good knife with a sharp curved 
blade. But meantime he’d have to hide it. He’d push 
it between the crosspiece and the boards of his bunk. 
And while the Captain wasn’t in his bunk down be- 
low — he wouldn't have wanted any dirt to fall on the 
Captain’s face — he pulled the heavy mattress back 
(it was stuffed with sawdust, not shavings), and then 
he hid the thing there. Alyoshka the Baptist and the 
two Estonians could see him doing it from their 
bunks. But he didn’t have to worry about them. 

Fetyukov came through the barracks and he was 
crying. He was all hunched up and there was blood 
on his lips. So he must’ve gotten beat up again for 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

trying to scrounge somebody’s bowl. He went past 
the whole gang, didn’t look at anybody, and didn’t 
bother hiding his tears. He climbed up to his bunk 
and dug his face in his mattress. 

You couldn’t help feeling sorry for him if you 
thought about it. He’d never live out his time in the 
camp. He just didn’t know how to do things right. 

And now the Captain came along in a good mood 
with a potful of tea. But it wasn’t the kind they got 
in the camp. They had two tubs with tea in the 
barracks, but who’d call that tea ? It was lukewarm 
and had the right color, but it was really just slops 
and it smelled of rotten wood from the tub. But this 
tea was only for poor suckers. Well, the Captain had 
gotten a fistful of real tea from Caesar and run off 
to get some boiling water. He looked pleased with 
himself and set it up on the locker. “I nearly scalded 
my fingers under the faucet.” he said as if he was 
proud of it. 

Caesar was spreading his stuff out on sheets of 
paper in the bottom bunk. Shukhov could see this 
through the cracks in the boards, and he put the 
mattress down again so he wouldn’t get upset at the 
sight of it. But Caesar couldn’t do without him. 

He stood up and peered over at Shukhov and 
winked at him. “I say, Shukhov ... be a good fellow 
and loan me that ‘ten days' of yours, will you ?” What 
he wanted was Shukhov’s little penknife (you could 
get ten days in the cooler if they found something 
like this on you). Shukhov kept it in the boards 
under his bunk too. It wasn’t half as big as his little 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

finger, but it could cut up a piece of fatback ten 
inches thick like nobody’s business. Shukhov had 
made this knife himself and always kept it sharp. He 
stuck his hand under the board again and got it out. 
Caesar gave him a nod and ducked down out of 

You could make something on a knife like that, 
but it meant the cooler if they found it on you. And 
if anybody borrowed it from you to cut off some 
sausage or something he’d have to have a heart of 
stone if all you got out of it was a kick in the ass. 

So now Caesar owed him for this too. After all 
the business with the bread and the knives, Shukhov 
pulled out his pouch. He took out as much tobacco 
as he’d borrowed earlier that day, reached it over to 
the Estonian in the top bunk across from him, and 
said “Thanks.” 

The Estonian spread his lips and sort of smiled 
at the other Estonian and jabbered something to him. 
Then they rolled themselves a cigarette out of it just 
to see what kind of tobacco Shukhov had. It was no 
worse than theirs, so why not ! Shukhov would have 
lit up himself to try the stuff out, but he could feel 
from that timekeeper he had inside of him it was 
getting very near the night check. Before long the 
warders would be snooping around the barracks. He’d 
have to go out in the passageway for a smoke, but it 
was warmer where be was in his bunk. The barracks 
was pretty cold and that ice was still up there on the 
roof. It wasn’t so bad right now but he’d get frozen 
through in the night. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Shukhov started breaking off pieces from one of 
his hunks of bread, but he couldn’t help hearing what 
the Captain and Caesar were saying while they drank 
their tea. 

“Help yourself, Captain, don’t wait to be asked 1 
Have some of the smoked fish, and there’s some 
sausage here too !” 

“Thank you, I don’t mind if I do.” 

“And put some butter on your bread. Real French 
bread from Moscow, you know.” 

“I must say it’s hard to believe they still make 
this sort of bread anywhere. All this luxury reminds 
me when I was in Archangel once....” 

There was a hell of a racket in their part of the 
barracks — two hundred fellows talking at once— but 
all the same Shukhov could hear them pound the rail 
outside. And he was the only one who did. He saw 
Snubnose, one of the warders, coming in the barracks. 
He was a stocky little fellow with a red face. He had 
a piece of paper in his hand and you could see from 
this and from the way he walked that he hadn’t come 
to catch smokers or to chase everybody out for the 
check. He was after somebody. He took a look at 
his piece of paper and asked: “Where’s 104?” 

“Right here,” they told him. 

The Estonians hid their cigarettes and waved their 
hands to get rid of the smoke. 

“And where’s your boss ?” 

“What d’you want ?” Tyurin said from his bunk 
and just put one foot down on the floor. 

“What’s happening about the reports those two* 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

guys of yours were supposed to hand in about their 
extra clothing?” 

“They’re writing them,” Tyurin said and he didn’t 
bat an eye. 

“They should’ve been handed in already.” 

“The trouble is they can’t hardly read or write, 
so it’s not easy.” (It was Caesar and the Captain he 
was talking about ! He was a great guy, the boss, he 
was never at a loss what to say.) “And they’ve got 
nothing to write with. There’s no pens and no ink 

“There should be.” 

“They always take ’em away from us !” 

“You better watch what you say or I’ll put you 
in the can,” Snubnose said, but he wasn’t too mad. 
“But see you get those reports to the warders’ room 
tomorrow morning! And they should say they’ve 
turned in those things they’re not supposed to have 
to the Personal Property Stores. Got it ?” 

“I get you.” 

(“Looks like the Captain made it,” Shukhov said 
to himself. The Captain hadn’t heard what was 
going on. He was too busy telling his story and eating 
that sausage.) 

“One more thing,” the warder said. “Is S-311 
here ? Is that one of yours ?” 

“Let me take a look at the list,” Tyurin said, just 
to stall. “How can anybody remember all these damn 
numbers ?” He was playing for time, trying to drag 
things out till they called the men for the night check, 
and maybe then the Captain wouldn’t have to go to 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

the cooler that night. 

But Snubnose shouted out: “Is Buynovsky here ?” 

“What’s that? Yes, I’m here,” the Captain called 
out from his bunk. (Some people move too fast for 
their own good.) 

“Buynovsky? Yeah, that’s you all right, S-311. 
Let’s go !” 

“Where ?” 

“You know.” 

The Captain just gave a sigh and grunted. It 
must’ve been easier for him to sail his destroyer on 
a dark night in Ihe stormy sea than it was to break off 
talking with his friend now and go to that freezing 

“How many days?” he asked and his voice was 
kind of low. 

“Ten ! Come on, make it snappy !” 

Just then the orderlies started yelling: “All out 
for the night check ! All out for the night check !” 

So it meant the warder they’d sent to make the 
check was in the barracks already. The Captain 
looked back at his bunk — should he take his coat? 
But they’d only strip it off in the cells and leave him 
nothing but his jacket. So he had to go there just as 
he was. The Captain thought Volkovoy might have 
let him off, but Volkovoy never let anybody off. So 
he wasn’t ready for this and hadn’t managed to hide 
any tobacco in his jacket. And there was no sense 
taking it with him in his hands because that’s the 
first thing they’d find when they frisked him. 

All the same, Caesar slipped him a couple of 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

cigarettes while he was putting his cap on. 

“Well, good-by, fellows.” The Captain gave a kind 
of sheepish look at 104 and he went off with the 

Some of them shouted after him : “Keep your 
chin up ! Don’t let ’em get you down !” What could 
you say? 

The fellows from 104 had built the place themselves 
and they knew how it looked— stone walls, a concrete 
floor, and no window. There was a stove, but that 
was only enough to melt the ice off the walls and 
make puddles on the floor. You slept on bare boards 
and your teeth chattered all night. You got six 
ounces of bread a day and they only gave you hot 
gruel every third day. 

Ten days ! If you had ten days in the cells here 
and sat them out to the end, it meant you’d be a 
wreck for the rest of your life. You got TB and you’d 
never be out of hospitals long as you lived. 

And the fellows who did fifteen days were dead 
and hurried. 

Long as you were in the barracks you thanked 
your lucky stars and tried to keep out of the cells. 

“Come on, get out !” the trusty in charge of the 
barracks shouted. “If you’re not all out by the time 
I count to three I’ll take your number and report 
you to the Comrade Warder !” 

This guy was the biggest bastard of them all. He 
was shut up with them at night in the same barracks 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

but acted like a higher-up and he wasn’t scared of 
anybody. It was the other way around — everybody 
was scared of him. He could turn you in to the 
screws or let you have it in the puss. He counted 
as an invalid because he’d lost one finger in a fight. 
You could tell from his mug he was a real hood. 
And that’s just what he was. They pulled him in for a 
real crime, but they hung Article 58/14 on him too. 
That’s why he was in this camp. 

And it was no joke. He’d take your number soon 
as look at you, and give it to the warder. Then you’d 
land in the cooler for two days with work “as usual.” 

So people started moving and crowding up to the 
door, and they jumped off the top bunks looking 
like bears. Everybody was making for that narrow 

Shukhov hopped down from his bunk and stuck 
his feet in his felt boots. He was holding the cigarette 
he’d just made — he wanted it real bad. But he didn’t 
go right away, because he was sorry for Caesar. It 
wasn’t that he wanted to get something out of Caesar 
again but he was just sorry for him. He thought a 
lot of himself, Caesar did, and he didn’t know a thing 
about life — he shouldn’t have spent all that time 
fussing with his package and should’ve gotten it to 
the storeroom before night check. He could’ve eaten 
the stuff later, but what could he do with it now ? 
If he took that damn bag out with him to the check 
he’d just make a laughing stock of himself in front of 
five hundred men, but if he left it here it might be 
pinched by the first man back. (In Ust-Izhma things 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

■were even tougher — the crooks always got back from 
work first and cleaned out all the lockers.) 

Shukhov saw Caesar was all in a sweat, but it 
was too late. He was stuffing the sausage and fatback 
in his jacket. He thought maybe he’d carry that along 
with him even if he couldn’t save anything else. 

So Shukhov was sorry for him and told him what 
to do: “Stay here till the last man leaves, Caesar 
Markovich, and get back in your bunk where it’s 
dark, and don’t budge till the warder and the order- 
lies come through. And then you tell ’em you’re 
sick. I’ll go out now and get in the front of the crowd 
and I’il be the first back. . . .” And he ran off. 

He had a hard time shoving his way through the 
crowd at first (and he had to guard that cigarette in 
his hand so it wouldn’t be crushed). But in the passage- 
way that led off both halfs of the barracks nobody 
was in a hurry — they were shrewd as hell — and they 
stuck to the walls like grim death, two deep on both 
sides, and all they left clear was the outside door. 
You could only get out of it one at a time and they 
didn’t mind if any dope wanted to. But most of them 
liked it better inside. They’d been in the cold all day 
long and nobody was that eager to freeze out there 
for another ten minutes. If anybody wanted to die, 
okay, but the rest of them could wait a little. 

Most times Shukhov stuck to the wall too, but 
now he made straight for the door and turned around 
and smirked at them: “What’re you so scared of, you 
nitwits? Never been out in the cold in Siberia before? 
Come and warm up under the moon like the wolves 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

.... Hey, give me a light, fellow.” 

He took a light from somebody and went out on 
the steps. The “wolves’ sun,” that’s what they some- 
times called the moon where Shukhov came from. 

The moon was real high up now. A little more 
and it’d be all the way up. The sky was pale — and 
sort of greenish. The stars were bright and there 
weren’t many of them. The white snow was glisten- 
ing and the walls of the barracks looked all white 
too, and the lights in the camp didn’t seem very 
strong now. 

There was a great black crowd of men over by 
another barracks. They were coming out and lining 
up. And the same outside that other one too. And 
there wasn’t much talk between barracks. All you 
could hear was snow crunching under people’s boots. 

Five men came down the steps of Barracks 9, and 
then another three. Shukhov went in with these three 
to make up the next row of five. It wasn’t so bad 
standing here when you’d eaten a little bread and had 
a cigarette in your mouth. The tobacco was all right. 
The Latvian hadn’t lied. It had the right strength and 
it smelled good. 

More men came straggling out the door and there 
were a couple of rows of fives behind Shukhov now. 
The fellows coming out were mad as hell at the guys 
still hugging the walls in the passageway. They had to 
stand here and freeze till those bastards came out. 

The prisoners never got to see a watch or a clocks 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

And what good would it do anyway? They just went 
by reveille, roll call, the noon meal break, and lights 

But the night check was around nine o’clock, so it 
was said. Only it never finished at nine. They always 
kept you hanging around while they doublechecked, 
and sometimes it was more than twice. You never got 
to bed before ten. And reveille, they said, was at 
five in the morning. No wonder that Moldavian had 
gone to sleep before the signal to knock off work. If 
a prisoner found a warm spot any place, he fell 
asleep right away. They lost so much sleep in the 
week, they slept like logs in their barracks Sundays. 
If they weren’t chased out to work, that is. 

They were all pouring out down the steps now. 
That trusty and the warder, the motherfuckers, were 
kicking them in the ass. 

The fellows who’d been first in line outside shouted 
at them: ‘Thought you were being smart, didn’t you, 
you bastards ? Trying to make cream out of shit or 
something? If you’d gotten out here before, we’d be 
through already.” 

They were all outside now. There were four 
hundred men in a barracks, and that made eighty 
rows of five lined up one after the other. The rows 
right in front of the barracks kept their lines of five, 
but the fellows in back were just bunched up any old 

“Line up by fives, you at the back!” the trusty 
yelled down from the steps. But the hell they would. 



One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 
the bastards! 

Caesar came out of the door all hunched up and 
doing his best to look sick. There were two orderlies 
from the other half of the barracks behind him, and 
two from their half with some lame fellow. They 
chased Caesar to the back and lined up in front of 
all the others. So Shukhov was now in the third row 
of five. 

The warder came out on the steps. 

“Line up by fi-i-ves!” he shouted to the men at 
the back and he had a strong voice. 

“Line up by fi-i-ves!” the trusty bawled too. And 
his voice was even stronger. 

But they still didn’t line up, the bastards. 

The trusty shot down the steps, went to the back, 
and bawled them out real good. And he punched 
some of the guys. But he was careful who he did it 
to. He only hit fellows he knew wouldn’t stick up 
for themselves. They all lined up now and he went 
back to the steps. And he and the Warder started 
yelling together. 

“One, two, three . . .” 

Every row of five shot into the barracks when it 
was called. They were through now for the day ! 

If they didn’t do another check, that is. Any 
sheep-herder could count better than these dopes. 
Maybe he didn’t have any book learning, but he 
could herd his sheep and keep count of them. But 
these bastards couldn’t do it even though they’d been, 
taught how. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Last winter there hadn’t been any drying room 
for their felt boots in this camp and they had to keep 
them in the barracks all night. They were chased 
outside anywhere up to four times for a recount. 
So they didn’t bother getting dressed even — they 
went out with their blankets around them. This year 
they’d put up drying rooms but they weren’t big 
enough for everybody, so each gang could dry out 
their boots only two nights out of three. And now 
when they had recounts they let you stay inside and 
just chased you from one half of the barracks to the 

Shukhov wasn’t the first to get back to the 
barracks, but he didn’t take his eyes off the fellow 
who was. He ran right over to Caesar’s bunk and sat 
on it. He pulled off his boots, climbed up on another 
bunk near the stove, and put them on top of it to 
dry. It was first come, first served here. Then he 
went back to Caesar’s bunk. He sat there with his 
legs under him and kept one eye on Caesar’s package 
so no one could pinch it from under the mattress, 
and his other eye was on that stove so nobody’d 
push his boots off in the rush to put their own 

“Hey, you there with the red hair !” he shouted 
to one fellow. “D’you want that boot in your mug? 
Put your own boots up there if you like but don’t 
touch other people’s !” 

The prisoners were pouring back in the barracks. 
Some fellows in Gang 20 were shouting : “Hand over 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

your boots for the dryer !” 

They let these fellows go out of the barracks with 
the boots and then locked it. And then they’d come 
running back and hammer on the door : Comrade 
Warder, let us in !” But by then the warders would 
be over in HQ doing their bookkeeping on those 
plywood boards to see if anybody’d run away. 

But Shukhov didn’t give a damn about all that 
today. Caesar was coming back now. “Thank you, 
Ivan Denisovich,” he said. 

Shukhov nodded at him and jumped up on his 
own bunk like a squirrel. He could finish off that 
bread now or smoke another cigarette or go to sleep 
if he wanted. 

But Shukhov’d had such a good day — he didn’t 
even feel like sleeping, he felt so great. 

Making his bed wasn’t much trouble — he only 
had to pull that dark blanket off and flop down on 
the mattress (he hadn’t slept on a sheet since forty- 
one, it must’ve been, when he left home, and he 
wondered why the women bothered so much about 
sheets — it only meant more washing), put his 
head on the pillow stuffed with shavings, tuck his 
feet in the arm of the jacket, and spread his coat on 
top of the blanket. And that was that, the end of 
another day ! “Thank God,” he said. 

It wasn’t so bad sleeping here and he was glad 
not to be in the cells. 

Shukhov lay down with his head to the window, 
and Alyoshka was on the other side of the bunk 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

with his head the other way so he got the light 
from the bulb. He was reading the Gospels again. 

Alyoshka’d heard Shukhov thank the Lord and 
he turned to him. ‘‘Look here, Ivan Denisovich, 
your soul wants to pray to God, so why don’t you 
let it have its way ?” 

Shukhov looked at Alyoshka and his eyes were 
narrow. They had a light in them and they were 
like two candles. And he sighed. “I’ll tell you why, 
Alyoshka. Because all these prayers are like the 
complaints we send in to the bigher-ups-either they 
don’t get there or they come back to you marked 
‘Rejected.’ ” 

In front of HQ barracks there were four boxes 
with seals and one of the security guys came along 
every month to empty them. A lot of fellows put 
slips in those boxes and they counted the days — a 
month or two months — waiting to hear. 

Either there was nothing or it was “Rejected.” 

“The trouble is Ivan Denisovich, you don’t pray 
hard enough and that’s why your prayers don’t work 
out. You must pray unceasing ! And if you have 
faith and tell the mountain to move, it will move.” 

Shukhov grinned and made himself another 
cigarette. He got a light from one of the Estonians. 

“Don’t give me that, Alyoshka. I’ve never seen 
a mountain move. But come to think of it. I’ve 
never seen a mountain either. And when you and 
all your Baptists prayed down there in the Caucasus 
did you ever see a mountain move ?” 

The poor fellows. All they did was pray to God. 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

And were they in anybody’s way ? They all got 
twenty-five years, because that’s how it was now — 
twenty-five years for everybody. 

“But me didn’t pray for that, Ivan Denisovich,” 
Alyoshka said, and he came up close to Shukhov 
with his Gospels, right up to his face. “The only thing 
of this earth the Lord has ordered us to pray for is 
our daily bread — ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’” 

“You mean that ration we get ?” Shukhov said. 

But Alyoshka went on and his eyes said more than 
his words and he put his hand on Ivan’s hand. 

“Ivan Denisovich, you mustn’t pray for somebody 
to send you a package or for an extra helping of 
gruel. Things that people set store by are base in the 
sight of the Lord. You must pray for the things of 
the spirit so the Lord will take evil things from our 

“But listen. The priest in our church in Polom- 

“Don’t tell me about that,” Alyoshka begged and 
he winced with pain. 

“No. But just listen.” And Shukhov bent over to 
him on his elbow. “The priest is the richest man in 
our parish in Polomnya. Suppose they ask you to 
build a roof on a house, your price is thirthy rubles 
for plain people. For the priest it’s a hundred. That 
priest of ours is paying alimony to three women in 
three towns, and he’s living with a fourth. And he’s 
got the bishop under his thumb. You should see the 
way he holds that fat greasy hand of his out to the 
bishop. And it doesn’t matter how many other priests 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovicu 

they send. He always gets rid of ’em. He doesn’t 
■want to share the pickings.” 

“Why are you telling me about this priest ? The 
Orthodox Church has gotten away from the Gospel. 
And the reason they don’t put them in prison is be- 
cause they have no true faith.” 

Shukhov looked straight and hard, and went on 
smoking. “Alyoshka,” he said, and he moved the 
Baptist’s hand away and the smoke from his cigarette 
went in Alyoshka’s face. “I’m not against God, under- 
stand. I believe in God, all right. But what I don’t 
believe in is Heaven and Hell. Who d’you think we 
are, giving us all that stuff about Heaven and Hell ? 
That’s the thing I can’t take.” 

Shukhov lay back again and dropped the ash off 
his cigarette between the bunk and the window, care- 
full so’s not to burn the Captain’s stuff. He was think- 
ing his own thoughts and didn’t hear Alyoshka any 
more, and he said out loud : “The thing is, you can 
pray as much as you like but they won’t take anything 
off your sentence and you’ll just have to sit it out 
every day of it, from reveille to lights out.” 

“You mustn’t pray for that.” Alyoshka was 
horror-struck. “What d’you want your freedom for? 
What faith you have left will be choked in thorns. 
Rejoice that you are in prison. Here you can think of 
your soul. Paul the Apostle said : ‘What mean you to 
weep and to break my heat ? for I am ready not to 
be bound only, but also to die* for the name of the 

♦TRANSLATORS* NOTE : The word* "at Jerusalem,” which 
should appear here, are omitted in the Russian text of the novel 
•(Acts 21 : 13). 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Lord Jesus.’ ” 

Shukhov looked up at the ceiling and said nothing. 
He didn’t know any longer himself whether he 
wanted freedom or not. At first he’d wanted it very 
much and every day he added up how long he still 
had to go. But then he got fed up with this. And as 
time went on he understood that they might let you 
out but they never let you home. And he didn’t really 
know where he’d be better off. At home or in here. 

But they wouldn’t let him home anyway. . . . 

Alyoshka was talking the truth. You could tell by 
his voice and his eyes he was glad to be in prison. 

“Look Alyoshka,” Shukhov said, “its all right for 
you. It was Christ told you to come here, and you are 
here because of Him. But why am I here ? Because 
they didn’t get ready for the war like they should’ve 
in forty-one ? Was that my fault ?” 

“Looks like they’re not going to check us over 
again.” Kilgas shouted from his bunk. 

“Yeah,” Shukhov said. “We ought to chalk that 
up on the chimney. Doesn’t happen every day.” And 
he yawned. “Time we got some sleep.” 

The barracks was quiet and there wasn’t a sound. 
Then they heard the grinding of the bolt on the 
outside door. The two fellows who’d taken the boots 
to the drying room ran in from the passageway and 
shouted : “Second check !” 

The warder was right behind them and he yelled: 
“Get out on the other side of the barracks !” 

Some of them were sleeping already. They 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

grumbled and started to move and put their feet in 
their boots (they never took their pants off, it was 
too cold under the blanket and you got all stiff with- 
out them). 

“The bastards !” Shukhov said, but he wasn’t too 
angry because he wasn’t sleeping yet. 

Caesar reached up and gave him two cookies 
two lumps of sugar, and a slice of sausage. 

“Thank you, Caesar Markovich ” Shukhov leaned 
over his bunk. “Now you give me that bag and I’ll 
put it under my pillow here.” (It wasn’t so easy to 
pinch something from a top bunk. And who’d think 
of looking in Shukhov’s anyway ?) 

Caesar handed up to him his white bag tied with 
string, Shukhov put it under his mattress and waited 
a little till they chased most of the fellows out in the 
passageway — so he wouldn’t have to stand there in 
his bare feet any longer than he had to. 

But the warder snarled at him and said : “Hey, 
you over there in the corner !” 

So Shukhov jumped down on the floor in his bare 
feet (his boots and foot-cloths were on the stove 
and they’d gotten nice and warm, and it’d be a 
shame to take them down). All those slippers he’d 
made for other people ! But never for himself. He 
didn’t mind. He was used to this sort of business 
and it would soon be over. 

And they took these slippers away from you too 
if they caught you with them in the day. 

The gangs who had their boots in the drying room 


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

— they didn’t mind much either. Some of them had 
slippers or they went out in their foot-cloths or in 
their bare feet. 

“Get a move on !” the warder yelled. 

“Would you like a taste of the stick, you filthy 
scum ?” the trusty said. He was there too. 

They were all driven over to the other side of the 
barracks and the ones who came last had to go out 
in the passageway. Shukhov stood out there by the 
wall near the latrine. The floor under his feet was 
wet and there was a freezing draft from outside. 

When they’d gotten them all out from the bunks 
the warder and the trusty went around, and had 
another look, just to make sure nobody was sleeping 
in some corner. They were in trouble if they had a 
man missing, and they were in trouble if they had 
one too many — it meant they’d have to start check- 
ing all over again. They went all around and came 

“One, two, three, four...” They let people back 
one at a time and it went real fast now. Shukhov 
was the eighteenth. He shot over to his bunk, put 
his leg on the ledge, and he was up there in a flash. 

It was great ! He tucked his legs in the arm of 
his jacket again and put the blanket and then his coat 
on top. He’d sleep now. They’d be bringing the guys 
from the other side of the barracks over here to 
check them. But that wouldn’t worry him. 

Caesar came back and Shukhov gave him his 



One Day iti the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Alyoshka came back too. He was always trying- 
to please people but he never got anything out of it. 

“Here, Alyoshka.” Shukhov gave him one of the 

Alyoshka smiled. “Thank you, but you haven’t 
got very much yourself.” 

“Go ahead. Eat it.” It was true he didn’t have 
very much but he could always earn something. And 
he put the piece af sausage in his mouth and chewed 
it and chewed it. The taste of that meat, and the 
juice that came out of it ! He’d eat the rest of the 
things before roll call, he thought. And he pulled 
the thin dirty blanket over his face and didn’t hear 
the guys from the other half of the barracks who 
were crowding ;«tound the bunks waiting to be 

Shukhov went to sleep, and he was very happy. 
He’d had a lot of luck today. They hadn’t put him in 
the cooler. The gang hadn’t been chased out to work 
in the Socialist Community Development. He’d fina- 
gled an extra bowl of much at noon. The boss had 
gotten them good rates for their work. He’d felt 
good making that wall. They hadn’t found that piece 
of steel in the frisk. Caesar had paid him off in the 
evening. He’d bought some tobacco. e’d gotten 
over that sicknessi, 

Nothing had spoiled the %jr'and^ n had been, 
almost happy. ^